Audio Interview: What motivates learners?

The purpose of this activity is to think deeply about (a) what motivates learners and (b) how  technology may be used to create ‘powerful’ learning experiences that affect students cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Rather than simply “exciting” students, the goal is to think deeply about what types of learning experiences inspire people to learn (think of David Wong’s presentation).

One way – indeed, an obvious way to understand what motivates people to learn is to ask them. Such interviews provide a ‘window into the mind’ by allowing people to express their understanding what drives them. An important psychological question is whether such self-reports are entirely accurate. Do we ever truly know why we do what we do?

Your Assignment

Using the audio technology of your choice, your assignment is to interview 1-2 participants, document what motivates them to learn, and present your findings. There are 5 parts to this project:

The timing and deadlines are follows.:

  • By Wed night of this week: choose your technologies. As a starting place, we have included some information about microphones and Audacity – a free audio recording program – here.
  • By Saturday night of this week: choose your topic and develop interview questions and a protocol. Be forewarned, this step is not as easy as it sounds!
  • By Wed night of next week: find 1 – 2 participants and conduct your interview(s).
  • By Saturday night of next week: Edit your interview, pulling out what you consider to be major themes about what motivates people to learn. Your final 3-5 minute audio presentation should report these themes and highlight corresponding evidence from your interview(s). Said differently: your final audio should do more than simply re-play your interview. Your final audio should report ‘your understanding of your participants’ understanding’ about what motivates them to learn.
  • Also by Saturday night of next week: Post the final, “produced” audio project to your website, including a brief (125 – 250 word) summary describing your experience, what you learned, etc.

Powerful Audio Experiences

To understand the power of well-produced audio, a person needs only to review the program list for National Public Radio (NPR). Programs such as This I Believe, Story Corps, and This American Life all feature people talking about important experiences and/or beliefs that have had an impact on their lives. These are powerful programs, but not solely because of content. There is an art to telling a good story and producing media that makes people smile, laugh, and even cry. There is something about the use of music, pauses, and tone of voice that creates a feeling for an audio story. Taken together these elements create a powerful experience.

For those interested, below are two brief articles on creating and using audio from San Diego State’s Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. While viewing the second link, consider how “design elements” may support or inhibit learning.

Audio Technology

Basic Equipment:

  • Microphone
  • Computer with sound recording software such as Audacity

Optional equipment:

  • Headphones

Conducting Your Interview(s)

When conducting your interview(s), consider the following:

  • Give participants an appropriate amount of time to formulate their answers. Avoid “jumping in” if someone needs some time to think before responding. Ten to twenty seconds is not unreasonable, though it may feel like a LONG, awkward silence. Be patient and, perhaps, remind the participant that there is no right or wrong response.
  • Avoid giving answers. As teachers, we are used to paraphrasing answers a bit more correctly – e.g., “So what you mean is…” But remember, our goal here is understanding someone else’s understanding about what motivates them.
  • Plan what type of questions you will ask and the resources you might need.
    For example, you might start the interview with an open ended request such as “Please explain how…” and follow up with “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Can you show me what you mean?” or “Please give me an example.”
  • Find a quiet place to conduct the interview and make sure you have recording equipment.
  • Test your recording equipment before beginning the interview.

For more information on responding openly to students’ questions, check out the page on Active Learning from The League for Innovation in Community Colleges.


  • karen bedell
    karen bedell said:

    Are we interviewing only each other? Not sure what is meant by “participants”. I took it to mean anyone we choose.

  • Cary Roseth said:

    Hi Karen — By ‘participants’ we are really leaving this up to you, but most likely it won’t mean other members of the class. Ideally, your participants would be learners related to your area of interest (e.g., adult learners, middle school students, etc.), but of course there are always logistical constraints on who’s available during the short amount of time we have to do this assignment. Hope this clarifies!

Leave your response!

You must be logged in to post a comment.