This week I discovered that my favorite grad school professor retired. He received a very humorous goodbye in my alumni newsletter, an article which brought up many fond memories. It was my all - time favorite class, although the subject matter was difficult and it met at 8:00am. I began to think about what made that professor stand out. What did he do to engage a class of 75 so early in the morning and cause us to think so deeply and discuss so passionately the finer points of American contracts law? What if we could be that kind of instructor, who 20 years later, are still remembered favorably and the concepts we taught are still ringing in students’ ears. I can’t copy my prof’s style, we have too many personal differences, but I can work on some core concepts which help me to be a motivating instructor. First, I can offer expertise. Teaching adults, I can’t force my knowledge on them, I have to allow them to explore the subject for themselves. I can, however, be available with that expertise in hand for practical workplace examples of a concept. I tried this out last week. My class discussed employment law -- a bunch of dry federal statutes on what to do and not do when hiring and firing. Then we took some job applications from the internet and compared them to these laws looking for legal issues in the applications. Suddenly the material had a practical relevant application, and the details of these laws became important to the students.

A second motivation I can provide is displaying empathy. Adult learners come with a full-blown life operating in the background of their education. Children get sick at inconvenient times; work causes problems that can’t be avoided. I have the choice to give empathy. It may mean I have to modify my teaching preferences to include instructional strategies which are more acceptable to the particular students in my class. Empathy includes both the human factor and flexibility to communicate expectations and bend those expectations to meet the individual or class need.

Showing enthusiasm is key to becoming a great motivational instructor. Have you ever noticed that when we talk about something for which we have a great deal of interest, we get more excited, more vocal, more demonstrative? Of course you have. This strong excitement or interest on behalf of a topic or cause is natural for most of us. Enthusiasm is contagious. Have you ever talked to someone who spent the weekend sky-diving or white water rafting? If you listen to their stories long enough, you may begin to think, “I should try that, it sound like lots of fun.” (Lie down until that feeling passes…) We want that same enthusiasm in our subject matter. When we are excited, students catch it. They become in engaged in the learning process.

A few weeks ago in class, I set out a series of scenarios to negotiate some sports and media representation contracts. I asked several students to represent the sports star, his agent and the media. These students dove into their parts, role-playing in great detail, and grins and laughter broke out. In fact, one group became so involved in the scenario that I had a hard time pulling them back to the class. They found the significance of contracts and negotiation in an enthusiastic environment.

Finally, demonstrating clarity. Demonstrating clarity is really the power of organized language. It can also be defined as “thinking on your feet” or articulating well. This seems especially important in the areas of class expectations and assignments. Adult learners need to know exactly what is expected and which assignments are part of the experience. I’ve also found that details such as explaining the why of assignments go a long way in motivating students.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a motivational instructor, check out this article:

Thoms, K. (2012) They’re Not Just Big Kids: Motivating Adult Learners. Retrieved from:


If you would like to discuss becoming a more motivational speaker with Elizabeth, please feel free to leave a comment below and she will respond accordingly!  Have a great day!