Motivation versus volition

Motivation is a significant factor in learning and successful learning transfer.

So is volition and this may be a new concept to you.

It is summed up in this quote from Darren Hardy: “Commitment is doing the thing you said you would do, long after the mood you said it in has left you.”

• Motivation is a state, an emotion, and is largely unconscious, whereas volition refers to a conscious act of free will that is more like a trait.

• Motivation drives the process of goal selection, whereas volition concerns how we self-regulate in the pursuit of that goal.

• Think of it as the difference between ‘I want’ and ‘I MUST’.

• Motivation is more ephemeral than volition.

Motivation is often triggered by external stimuli or the expectation of a reward, but such motivation is susceptible to change. More attractive opportunities may emerge, or obstacles may appear that make the reward seem too small.

We also use temporal discounting, so that a big reward in the future can seem smaller than a small, immediate reward, and we get seduced by the more immediate benefit, which may be the comfort of lapsing back into old habits.

Volition, however, implies a deep personal attachment to an intention, which leads to a determination to achieve it. Learning transfer needs both motivation and volition, not just from the learner but from all the stakeholders.

How can you bake intention protection into your programme?

Consider this story (you have probably heard it before, but it is well worth revisiting):
The Clerk of Works at the construction site of a great new religious building asked the four stonemasons what they considered their job function to be:
The first said, “I’m cutting stone”.
The second said, “I’m carving a pillar”.
The third said, “I’m building a great and noble monument”.
The fourth said, “I’m serving God and humankind”.
He invited the fourth to join him on the management team.

I was in a class at the gym and the instructor was urging us to use slightly heavier weights than we would normally use. She said, “There is no change without challenge”. This philosophy doesn’t extend to all areas of life, but it does apply well beyond the gym and is a factor in learning transfer.

The problem is that challenge usually brings with it some form of discomfort, and we naturally shy away from discomfort. It may be the discomfort of the pain of exercising at your limits, of going a bit hungry on a diet, of withdrawal from something we have grown used to but want to stop. At work, it may be the discomfort of trying something different, the discomfort of saying you don’t know in front of peers, or the discomfort of trying and failing. All too often we give up on our goal when discomfort kicks in.

When the going gets tough, getting tough to handle it requires volition.

The path to learning transfer is lined with distractions and obstacles that take attention and energy away from purposeful action.

Mitigate the effect of those distractions and prepare learners for the obstacles.

For example, deliberately create social pressures with public commitments, challenging deadlines or league tables of progress, or have relevant stakeholders monitor the learners’ activities to increase the perceived cost of abandoning the goal.

Most importantly, ask the learners what would distract them from accomplishing learning transfer and work with them to make plans so that volition and commitment can win the day.