apple Motivation

Motivation inspires adults to begin learning and encourages them to continue on in the learning process. The power of motivation cannot be underestimated. A wonderful example of the power of motivation is Clarence Brazier of Huntsville. Mr. Brazier, at 100 years old, won the 2006 Canada Post Literacy Award for Individual Achievement. Mr. Brazier was motivated to learn to read at 93 years of age with the support of his daughter and the Muskoka Literacy Council.

Mr. Brazier was motivated to learn because he wanted to remain as independent as possible. As noted on the website of Canada Post: “When his wife died after 64 years of marriage, Clarence decided he finally had to learn how to read. He was 93. Publicity about his literacy journey resulted in speaking engagements at schools and seniors’ clubs, and Clarence happily became a “poster boy” for literacy. At nearly 100, Clarence said every story he read was a new joy and every word is a small blessing”.

This, and stories like it, prove that with the right motivation, people will do extraordinary things!

Adults learn best when they are motivated to do so. Motivation may come from within, or a critical event may trigger it. As well, motivation can be provided externally by family, friends, a community organization, social agency, the work place or other sources. An understanding of learner motivation should play a significant role in determining the strategies that literacy agencies use to retain learners. Motivation is very powerful – after all, how many of us procrastinate or simply avoid things that we simply do not want to do? Wanting to do something makes accomplishing a task so much more meaningful and achievable!

Practitioners should build on student motivation by:

  • Ensuring that learning is relevant to student goals
  • Pointing out successes
  • Providing regular acknowledgement of hard work and achievements
  • Encouraging students to take on new challenges
  • Encouraging students to increase their level of involvement with the program

Lindsay Kennedy, in Community Literacy of Ontario’s “Skills for the Future,” noted that, in general, motivation can be influenced by:

  • The amount of energy and effort that is required to achieve a goal
  • The fact that people change their minds about what they want
  • How someone feels (mentally, physically)
  • The personal attachment to achieving the goal
  • Friends, family, job, and normal life factors

Primary Motivators for Contacting a Literacy Program

In ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” people were asked about their primary motivation for contacting a literacy organization.


(Note: Percentages do not equal exactly 100% because of rounding).

The Ontario Literacy Coalition’s “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need”found that the top expectations from enrolling in a literacy program were:

  • Better employment prospects (85%)
  • Increasing confidence and motivation (61%)
  • Increasing the chance of getting into credit or diploma programs (50%)
  • Gaining better computer and Internet skills (34%)
  • Increasing literacy skills (32%)

Employment and Motivation

As noted by the various studies cited in this module, many learners have employment goals. However, ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” study, 47% of learners cited “job related conflicts” as their reason for dropping out. This held true in the Ontario Literacy Coalition’s “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” research where 39% of learners said “work conflicts” was their reason for dropping out.

With so many students citing job related conflicts as a reason for dropping out, it is important for literacy agencies to offer flexible and adaptable programming that can meet the needs of adults who are either currently working or who are looking for work.

Agencies also need to ensure that they are using relevant curriculum and goal-focused, authentic workplace material with learners with employment goals. As well, agencies should actively link with employment counseling and training services in their communities in order to better meet the needs of employed learners or learners looking for work.

Employment Ontario

As of January 2007, The Government of Ontario created a one-stop training and employment system which includes Literacy and Basic Skills training: “Employment Ontario – Ontario’s Employment and Training Network”. This name more accurately reflects the integrated nature of the new system and its services.

Employment Ontario aims to increase employment and training opportunities by providing seamless customer service, removing barriers to training, and strengthening links to employment. This system offers easily identifiable access points with a client focus and allow for the provision of consistent information and referral services. You can learn more about Employment Ontario by visiting their website at:

Employment Resources

Community Literacy of Ontario has listed some of the popular workforce resources used in the Ontario literacy community below. This is just the tip of the iceberg! Talk to your colleagues, undertake some research and conduct an Internet search to find more.

Preparatory Training Programs of Toronto has produced some very valuable workforce resources, including the highly-rated “WorkWrite”series. You can find of all their resources at:

Literacy Link Eastern Ontario, in partnership with its member agencies, produced and distributed a series of CDs as part of a Workplace Literacy Special Initiative. The CDs contain a wealth of tools related to workplace literacy including Assessment Tools, Skilled Trades Helpers, Call Centre Curriculum, a Health Care Curriculum, a Retail Curriculum, a Food Processing Curriculum and job search skills. There are eleven CDs in all. All of the curriculum CDs include sections for both learners and practitioners. The learners’ section has activities that can be printed out, and the practitioners’ section provides answer keys. There are also demonstrations that can be printed out. Visit Literacy Link Eastern Ontario’s website for more information at

QUILL Literacy Network produced a CD called: Practical Supports: Reinforcing Our Capacity to Serve Learners with Employment Goals.”This resource includes modules on: Understanding Workforce Requirements; Workforce Literacy Organizational Policies and Procedures; Qualified Workforce Instructors; Workforce Materials and Learning Activities; and Common Assessment and Learner Mobility. This training resource can be purchased through QUILL for $25. Visit for more information.

A useful resource called “Career Planning Guide for Adult Learners” (by Calvin Coish of the College of the North Atlantic) can be found at:

Lack of Money

A lack of money has a negative impact on motivation and was identified as one of the most common reasons for adult students leaving their literacy programs. In ABC Life Literacy’s “Who Wants to Learn?” study, 35% of learners cited “money problems” as their reason for dropping out. This figure was confirmed in Ontario’s “Seeing the Need; Meeting the Need” research where 39% of learners who dropped out of their literacy programs cited “money problems” as their reason.

Lack of money is a very serious issue for many adult students. In ABC Life Literacy’s research nearly a quarter of potential students were receiving some form of social assistance and close to half of potential learners lived in households with annual incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

Literacy practitioners must show sensitivity to adult learners’ financial circumstances and provide whatever supports they can. We should also be aware of and link with other community services that may be able to provide needed supports. We can also help with filling out forms and ensuring that learners are fully aware of the various options available to them.

Support from Family and Friends

Support from family and friends is a critical motivator for encouraging adults to stay in programs. As well, adults often first enroll in literacy programs because of their family and friends. In order to increase their support, literacy practitioners should work to ensure that family and friends are aware of this critical role they play in helping adult learners to stay in programs. Fortunately, the great majority of literacy students do feel they receive support from family, friends and the literacy program itself as demonstrated in the research studies mentioned throughout this module.

Family Literacy and Motivation

Telling adult students about the benefits that their participation in a literacy program could have on their children may help to motivate them as well. Already, some learners say that one of the reasons they decided to enroll in literacy was for the sake of their children. This can be a huge motivating factor! You can find a wealth of information on family literacy and its benefits by visiting the website of  ABC Life Literacy at:

Other Resources

For additional information, there is some valuable information in the following article called “The Seven Rules of Motivation”:


Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. Do the top motivators identified in the research match the situation in your literacy agency? Why or why not?
  2. A high level of motivation greatly increases retention. How can you better support and build on student motivation?
  3. Research shows that the desire to get or keep a job is a huge motivator for adult students. How do you support students with this goal? Are there ways you could do this more effectively?
  4. How can you offer flexible/alternate programming to learners who need time to search for a job or whose current job is causing them to be frequently absent?
  5. Are there ways you can help learners who are faced with financial difficulties remain in your program?
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