The Balancing of Load vs Power and How to Motivate the Adult Learner

Reading Merriam and Bierema, (2014) Chapter Eight, “Motivation and Learning” I was not surprised to see Knowles’ (1984) theory of Andragogy. Adult learners need to have Knowles (1984) four assumptions met in order to meet their needs.

As an adult who has balanced being the primary income earner working shift-work, raising active children, one with health issues, an assortment of volunteer roles, higher education and the passion for physical activity for most of my life, a page on Mcclusky’s Theory of Margin prompted me to seek more information on the balance of load and power. I have always been intrigued how some people almost seem to thrive under unbelievable load and yet others are unable to cope with what appears to be a very minimal load.

According to McCluskly’s theory of Margin, life is a balance of “Load and Power”. The load that each of us feels comes from a mix of external and internal tasks of life: externally such as, family, career demands, and internally, from our self-concept, personal goals and expectations. The addition of instructor-generated load burdens the already load-challenged adult learner.

The power side of the equation comes from social network, family support, our basic personality and I believe an inner resilience. So, as a nurse educator how do I motivate the nurse adult learner to seek higher education or certification when many are already feeling an overabundance of load and a severe lack of power?

I believe that acknowledging the load that each of my learners’ already feels gives value to them as an adult learner. I suggest and have found benefit from bringing the concept of load “into the classroom or online environment”. Seeking input from the group will empower the learners as they share and problem solve through group discussion, moving them into a self-determined state of learning of Heutagogical learning environment and further away from Pedagogy or even Andragogy.

Acknowledging that by participating in higher education the adult learner will feel a temporary increased load that is converted into power when the knowledge is transformed into practice is often motivating enough for some and at least engaging for others.

Using the forum of advanced clinical nursing here are 17 tips to Motivate Adult Learners

Source: 17 Tips To Motivate Adult Learners

  1. Create useful and relevant learning experiences based on the age group and interests of your learners
    Acknowledging that many of the participants already have experience in the subject is important. Nurses want to know how they are going to use the learning in a practical way.
  2. Facilitate exploration
    Nurses tend to be practical hands on learners. Demonstrations and the use of “mock scenarios” are very effective.
  3. Build community and integrate social media
    Opening with a group discussion or the sharing of a personal work experience with the subject brings the adult learners “into the room”. Key is to keep the sharing in perspective and to ensure that the class is not “derailed” by an over keen sharer.
  4. A voice behind the video is not enough
    Everyone loves subject-matter experts, authors, professors and other specialists in live online discussions and question and answer sessions.
  5. Challenge through games
    One of my favorite games was created by a colleague who developed a form of “Jeopardy” for Gerontology and the normal course of aging.
  6. Use humor
    I have always used humor to engage and motivate even the most challenging learner. The ability to “perform” in front of people is a skill.
  7. Chunk information
    I found this an interesting concept. Chunking the information into smaller, more “digestible” segments will balance the feeling of load for the learner.
  8. Add suspense
    This is a skill that I don’t currently have. I tend to be too open and want to tell my learners upfront about the anticipated education load but can see now how this could increase the perception of load in terms of “fear of the unknown”.
  9. Accommodate individual interests and career goals
    Workplace required education is a challenging environment. This is where the nurse is thinking “load” when the instructor is thinking “power”. Trying to pull the individual interests and goals into these sessions will motivate the adult learner.
  10. Stimulate your learners
    Listening to a power-point is probably the most mind numbing experiences in nursing education yet when the instructor asks questions and seeks input from the class, adult learners become engaged and motivated.
  11. Let learning occur through mistakes
    I believe that this speaks to reflective learning. Patient safety is foremost in the clinical nursing environment. A patient safety environment focuses on learning through self-reflection.
  12. Make it visually-compelling
    I have always been a firm believer in colour and visual samples wherever possible.
  13. Get Emotional
    Nurses are storytellers by nature. Adult learners love to hear the stories and Nurses love to share about the good and bad that happens everyday at work.
  14. Get examples of their workplace
    This is best realized through the sharing of work experiences.
  15. Be respectful to them 
  16. Ask for feedback
    It is motivating to know that your opinion contributes to the course.
  17. Present the benefits of undertaking the course
    When filled with an overwhelming sense of “load” it is easy to lose the reason why the employer is requiring participation in the workshop or in-service. Refocusing the in-service on the patient and how the new knowledge will decrease the nurse’s load long term is often motivation enough for the adult nurse.


Bhoyrub, J., Hurley, J., Neilson, G. R., Ramsay, M., & Smith, M. (2010). Heutagogy: An alternative practice based learning approach. Nurse Education in Practice10(6), 322-326.

Merriam, S., & Bierema, L., (2013), Adult Learning; Linking Theory and Practice,

San Francisco, Jossey-Bass

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.







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