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How to Motivate your Learners with Rewards


Rewards: people love them.

Be it a 10-metre swimming certificate, or a Nobel Peace Prize; we all love being rewarded.

Rewards release the feel-good chemical dopamine. In Learning & Development, this makes learners crazy for learning more!

If you’re responsible for training employees, you’ll already know that the biggest challenge can be arousing interest in your training programme. Have no fear, rewards go a pretty long way to encourage motivation.

Before we go any further, let’s learn some of the science behind motivation itself…

Different Kinds of Motivation

Generally speaking, there are two types of human motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation involves doing something for its external rewards, like money, praise or something else tangible. For extrinsically-motivated people, it is not the action or behaviour itself which they like, but the outcome. In the learning sphere, this means that learners may not enjoy learning new things. They are motivated because of the promise of a pay-rise or reward at the end of the process.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation drives behaviours that result in internal rewards, like enjoyment, positive feelings and happiness. It’s a drive to complete an action – in our case learning – because of the effect it has on us internally. Therefore when people are intrinsically motivated, they have a genuine desire for the activity itself and enjoy it tremendously.

For the extrinsic learners amongst us, how do we initiate a rewards programme?

How to Design a Rewards Programme

Write Down Your Goal

Some of the most stellar advances in technology started their lives as doodles on the back of a napkin.

Before you do anything else, grab a notepad and write down the goal of the rewards programme.

Do you want to drive engagement across the board, or has your training needs analysis thrown up a few key areas that need to be improved?

As with so many successful plans, a sound goal will be the foundation on which your rewards package will be built, so it’s worth spending some time getting this first part right before you go any further.

Talk to Your Learners

You could send out an email asking people what kind of rewards they’d like to earn, or if your LMS has social functionality, you could just pin a sticky post to the top of the news feed. You might get a better picture if you approach your learners in person. You’ll likely uncover more detail in the context of a face-to-face conversation. Invite a few out for a coffee, bring it up at the next company social, or just ambush them at the lunch table!

Write a List of Ideas

Now that you know what your learners are into, it’s time to look for ways to fill that hole in their lives. Put on your Google hat and search online for reward ideas. Make a list of at least ten rewards that you think will appeal to your learners.

Having done your research, go find a tree to sit under and let your brain out of its box! Don’t worry too much about cost or practicality at this stage – innovative solutions are only found when people set their imaginations loose.  If you can come up with another five ideas, you’re well on your way to an irresistible rewards package.

What Types of Rewards Can You Offer?


In spite of money being a big motivator, it’s not always the most practical solution. Don’t worry! There are tons of other ways you can motivate your learners without having to splash the cash.

Take some tips from our award winning Academy LMS, such as:

Badges, Points and Leaderboards

Badges and Points – which fall under ‘gamification’ – come together to make the learning work because employees need to gain Badges and XP (experience points), if they want to appear on company Leaderboards.

Certain Leaderboards can be visible to all learners.

Individual Leaderboards for different divisions or teams can also be set up to encourage some healthy competition!

Some virtual badge ideas can include:

  • Content completion
  • Content downloads
  • Viewing different areas of your LMS such as leaderboards, badge cabinets etc.
  • Adding a comment to a social stream
  • 100th login

When a learner logs into the Academy LMS, they’re greeted with the Leaderboard, which shows them who is on the top spot. If an employee sees that they’ve been dropping down the rankings, they’ll be motivated to do the necessary – whether that’s to take outstanding eLearning Courses or Tests, or complete any other activity – to begin their climb to stardom once again!

What About Real Life Rewards?

A huge pile of cash

We understand that some learners get greater motivation from real-life rewards. This is also something we offer on our Academy LMS. Here’s a list of some real-life rewards you could award learners:

  • A lunch with their CEO
  • A month’s primo-parking / coffee making exclusion rights.
  • Recognition in their organisational newsletter / intranet / social media.
  • ‘Expert’ status on the LMS / a special Badge.
  • Small giveaway like a t-shirt / trophy / mug / certificate.
  • A ‘day off’ pass (this one is particularly popular!)

Final Word

The best reward you can give a learner is a learning experience that sets them on the road to development. It’s tempting to dangle the carrot of a gift voucher in front of them, but employees don’t want bribes – they want a future.

A solid rewards package won’t mean anything if your learning programme isn’t up to the task of making people even better than they already are. If you don’t engage them at a basic level, no amount of free ice-cream or foot rubs will keep them returning.

When you have an Engagement Engine, a rewards programme is just the icing on an already wonderful cake.

To find out how to get more from your learning and development programme, click the button to download our Engagement Engine Workbook!

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