Motivating Learners: Speaking Relevance to Your eLearning Course

Engaged Learners

As a former broadcaster, Michelle loves to share insights using audio and video tools. We’re excited to announce her posts will now be available in dual formats—on YouTube as well as the blog.

As I read the recent Motivation in Education series authored by my eLearning colleague Ann Broda, I was reminded of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, a common technique used in persuasive speaking.

This is a concept covered in the online speech course that I teach. Although Monroe’s focus is on how to develop a convincing speech, the pattern bears striking similarities to Keller’s ARCS model that Ann described.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence was developed in the mid-1930’s by Purdue University professor Alan Monroe as a method for organizing a persuasive speech. It consists of five steps—attention, need, satisfaction, visualization, and action. Although meant for reaching an audience while giving a speech, instructional designers and online educators can use this 5-step sequence to motivate students and bring relevance to the course content.

Step 1: Attention

It’s important to gain the attention of your audience when giving a speech. When teaching a class, particularly one that is fully or partially online, getting the attention of your students may seem like a challenging task. However, one way this can be accomplished is through weekly videos. As mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, instructor videos can help students feel connected with the professor.

In the online course I teach, I post a new video each week and can track how often and for how long students engage with it. I call these “coaching sessions” because I coach students on exactly how to give a speech and provide visual examples of what is expected in upcoming assignments. I have had students tell me that they look forward to these and can hardly wait for Monday to roll around so they can view the coaching session of the week.

Step 2: Need

The need step of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence presents a “problem” to solve, or a “need” to fulfill. I see this step as a way to convince students why they “need” the course. I have been teaching college students for more than 20 years and have often asked them “Why are you taking this course?” Most respond with “Because it’s required.”

I’m sorry, but that is NOT the correct answer! If the course is “required”, there has to be a good reason why it’s required.

As with most professors, I am passionate about the subject matter I teach. I want to help my students overcome their fear of giving speeches and want to equip them to be effective communicators in both their professional and personal life. I emphasize how employers look for well-spoken workers, how many jobs require live presentations, and how communication skills are necessary on the job and in the home. I help them understand their need for the skills that will be covered in the course. I make the course relevant.

By the end of the semester most have changed their attitude from “I’m only taking this course because it’s required” to “This course helped me gain skills for my job and my life”.

Step 3: Satisfaction

This step shows how the “need” can be fulfilled by suggesting solutions.

This is where the activities and assignment of the class really come into play. The course content must be aligned to fulfill the need, in other words, to meet the course learning outcomes. Course design should take into account a variety of learning styles, with activities that appeal to those who learn through visual, aural, written, and kinesthetic methods. In the speech course I teach, students:

  • view examples,
  • listen to weekly introductions,
  • journal about what they are learning, and
  • experience firsthand what it’s like to plan and deliver a speech.

Step 4: Visualization

This step of Monroe’s sequence is meant to help the audience “see” what will happen when the need is satisfied.

In the online learning environment, it’s important to let students know they can be successful. I stress that while they may not be the best speaker in the world, they will undoubtedly be a better speaker after completing the course. In evaluations, I not only give specific suggestions for improvement, I also praise students for what they are doing right. This helps to build confidence and puts them on the path to success.

Step 5: Action

After gaining attention, explaining the need, satisfying the need, and helping an audience visualize the outcome, the final step is action. This allows a speaker to tell the audience exactly how they should respond after hearing the persuasive message.

In the online classroom, the action step helps students to apply their learning. The final assignment is to write a paper describing how they have met the course learning outcomes. Students must give examples from their own speeches and/or assignments that prove they have not only engaged in the course content, but that they know how to apply it in real life situations in the classroom and beyond.

What motivational strategies have you used to engage students? Please share your thoughts and comments.


Eom, S. B., & Ashill, N. (2016). The Determinants of Students’ Perceived Learning Outcomes and Satisfaction in University Online Education: An Update*. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 14(2), 185-215. doi:10.1111/dsji.12097

Frymier, A. B., & Shulman, G. M. (1995). `What’s in it for me?’: Increasing content relevance to enhance students’ motivation. Communication Education, 44(1), 40.

Monroe, A. H. (1935). Principles and types of speech. New York, Atlanta: Scott, Foresman and Company.



Author: modelelearning

Our team explores instructional design and eLearning trends. We develop student-centered blended and online courses at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, MI.

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