As a “learning” consultant I get often the question about the engagement of learners (students of employees).

How can we improve motivation and engagement? Which tools can we use? Is gamification an option? Teachers often says, we designed the course, worked out the learning objectives, we tried microlearning’s, new methods… but we don’t get the engagement that we expected?

Well, does the course or training that you are giving, answer the expectations of the learners?

Even though they are brimming with good will, I can sense the frustration of teachers when students struggle to make progress. This is the time to pause and think which needs influence learners’ motivation? Where possible, we also need to create learning environments that help to meet these different needs. After all, if we can achieve this, motivation should be easy to find.

Piramide of Maslov – What is in for me?

“What is in for me” can be answered from different angles. Let take a look at the pyramid of A. Maslow. Maslov is a child of his time. You still feel the linear thinking: it is a growth model always one step further in our development. It is as we can separate the different layers. I have some reservations about this:

1. If you look purely at the triangle, everything seems nicely separated. In reality this is not the case. I know models are used to oversimplify the reality but there is an overlap and influence between the layers. To have a view on “What is in for me” I prefer the four vendiagrams we worked out With BOBIP we distinguish 4 core topics or domains where the answers will be found: curiosity, expertise, time, future  Due to the overlaps, other drivers also come to the fore.

2. The influence of the others, the group is not emphasized enough. Belonging is not just a layer in the pyramid but the driving force of all layers. In the BOBIP Method, the “selfreflection questions” focus also on the “”what is in for us” ( look at each vendiagram … alone and with others), that is where the belonging is. Through contact with the group you become more aware of your position and the fact that you can give and take from the whole.

Conditional and positional motivation

“Belonging” or the group is also important to provide social learning opportunities. You may immediately think of gamification. Unfortunately it is usually not focused on cooperation but on competition. Within gaming, a distinction is made between tackled game mechanics aimed at competition (conditioning) or holistic gamified projects, with an emphasis on epic meaning. Epic meaning is:

is “the drive where people are motivated because they believe they are engaged in something that is bigger than themselves.” Yu-kai Chou

Motivation through conditioning works, but is not always sustainable. If we want to work on the epic meaning within a game, the reference to impact within the group for the benefit of the group or the whole is important.

Social learning opportunities such as  learning communities– where there is place for dialogue, sharing of experiences and knowledges, through dialogue – lead an individual to the possibility to position themselves within the whole. ( Positional motivation)

Maslov’s pyramid related with ”What is in for us”?

What if we look at the Pyramid from the point of view of a group, society? Aren’t we, as a society, eating away the bottom layers? Don’t we cut the trunk off the branch we love so much to sit on?

If we don’t take care of the climate and the earth, it will be very difficult to feel physiologically safe as individuals. Because we are many, we (over)structure societies and human chaos disappears, relationships (commitments) disappear. We need a balance between structure and chaos.

A civilized society must first and foremost seek to address suffering and not cause it. Concern and commitments are the principle motives by which to address suffering, but it is very easy for us to dissociate or be in denial of suffering, distracted by the modern comforts and the threats of economic loss and inferiority.

Survival and in our struggle for survival, we who are well off are going to focus on self-esteem by grabbing even more. Because we are that good, right? I understand correctly that our society is narcissistic. Uncertainty bubbles up, causing the occasional violent attempt to smother the other.

Learning, development of talents, education and jobs…

The educational system is a representation of society. We live in a transactional society focused on results, and outcomes and so does the educational system, which is focused on employability (as an outcome).

Our young people study at institutions that are immersed in scarcity thinking, while there is no scarcity. An environment where there is a sense of shortage does not feel safe and this promotes competition and kills collaboration. At school, the emphasis is still on ‘getting those points, getting that diploma, otherwise you miss out on that scarcity job’. The competition is real, the scarcity is not and the stress this causes has an effect on health, look at the rising percentages of burnout.

Society is little by little changing again towards commitments and relationships. We are moving too slow!

‘War of talent’  without self-reflection?

‘War of talent’ is a trendy word, but are talents really taken into account or do people still look at diplomas, grades? When was the last time you applied for a job at a large firm? Did you also had to fill in a standard application form and what do they ask there: diploma, university and preferable out of a pre-printed enumerated list of schools and universities. What if you diploma doesn’t exists anymore?

Companies think they have changed because they doesn’t use job descriptions anymore… but they using “roles” instead, the principle remains the same. Just because you use a different word doesn’t mean the underlying pattern is gone.

How can we recruit based on talents when most people can’t really answer the question of what their talents are?
Or they come up with a list and you immediately see which assessment tool they have completed. What are those assessment worth if people start answering socially desirable because you know “scarcity”….


  • we don’t reflect on ourselves;
  • we don’t have a grip on self-efficacity (which skills, talents you need to use to achieve a goal);
  • vague connections take over relationships/commitments…

How can we demand of the learner that he/ she knows what his/her talents are?

The relationship quality leg was missing.

If we want to  from “What’s Is for me “ to “What’s in for us” we need to ask added questions:

 “What am I having with whom or with the overall environment?”

If we have an answer on these “green” questions, we can position ourself within the group and answer the red question, which is not the same as the “how is the rest reacting?” (purple ones).

What is in or us?
Too little appeal is made to the positional motivation of the learner: what can he/she offer to the group and what does he/she get in return? My use of words is important here it is the relationship between the individual and the group not between the individual and another individual of the group.
Isn’t that what Maslov meant by self-esteem  (In other words, our value within a social context holds significant motivational power) and self-actualization?

“Belonging” to nature – Mitakuye Oyasin

Lets go even further, until know I stayed in the perspective of the human within the human social group… but we belong to a much larger ecosystem. If you don’t belong you will not be sure about the basics needs….

  • You will not be safe and
  • it is much more difficult – probably not possible to survive ( physiological needs).

Learning is a constant interaction between an individual an the whole, which can be seen broader then the other people, think (natural) environment.

Mitakuye Oyasin, reflects the world view of interconnectedness held by the Lakota people of North America. The phrase translates in English as “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.


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