The Segway – A Mechanism of Motivation


2017 – by Alan Camerer

I was reminded of the power of motivation when I became a student of ‘The Garage’, a local Segway touring company, this past weekend. Having signed up for a one hour Segway tour of Cincinnati, a group of friends and I were required to watch a video and immediately follow that with a one-on-one instructor session with a Segway trainer and guide. I don’t remember being so focused on learning something new, even during my master’s degree oral defense! I was definitely motivated to learn.
I believe what truly motivated me was the imminent possibility of either pain or public humiliation. What if I just couldn’t ride one of these two-wheeled technological wonders? What if I failed in front of all the others? It had been rumored to happen, and pained visions of the Segway throwing me face first to the ground were haunting me as I stepped on to the vehicle for the first time. Are motivational factors like pain and humiliation in the background of every decision we make? Do they ultimately drive us to succeed, whether we want to or not? Are these the motives that thrust so many children ahead to future success, so abundantly so that some even become millionaires? I’ve given some thought to my experience, and what follows are some of the conclusions I’ve reached.
Dr. John Keller has talked a lot (1982) about motivational design. Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction: these are the four pillars of his ARCS motivational theory. In reviewing my Segway experience, I can affirm the importance of each of these pillars. I’ve also condensed my experience into the following rules related to his theory.

Attention: The imminence of a personal experience was the attention-getter that first attracted my focus. Without the looming direct personal application of the pending lesson – the ride to follow – would I have concentrated quite so intensely? Probably not.

Rule #1: Training should have direct personal consequence for the learner: the more immediate, the better.

Relevance: What if we had received training for a similar brand of device with different options for control? What about a totally new device? Would we be as successful if we were then required to transfer that learning to the model we were actually using? Probably not.

Rule #2: Training should apply to the situation at hand and be as real and relevant as possible.
Confidence: One thing that the trainers did very well was start out slowly, explaining each step clearly and warning about possible roadblocks to success. “Everyone wobbles at first!” was the last thing I heard before stepping up on the device, immediately wobbling uncontrollably. Because I heard the advice, I was prepared for what seemed like instant failure. With some continued encouragement, my wobbling ceased as I began to feel the center of balance in my feet. I was soon rocking the Segway back and forth under me, controlling it confidently. Would I have succeeded so quickly without those well-placed words of instruction? Probably not.

Rule #3: Trainers need to map out the roadblocks for learners and help them recognize and get over those known speed bumps as smoothly and quickly as possible.

Satisfaction: At one point in our trip, my machine ‘whacked out’, for lack of a better term. It just sort of stopped and turned off. The guide came over and immediately assured me that it was not my fault. He turned a key and pushed some buttons, and I was off and riding again. He helped me through my rough spot, and we went on our way. Another rider who struggled to climb a slight incline lost his balance, fell off his machine, and scraped his arm on the blacktop in the process. The guide rushed to him with instruction and an apology for his having to bear with an unfortunate experience due to an unusual combination of factors. Although visibly shaken, the rider brushed the dirt from his arm and stepped back on the wheeled beast. The guide continued to encourage us as we rode, not dwelling on the accident but focusing our attention on the scenery and history around us. We all felt the ride was a success when we arrived back at ‘The Garage’. Would we have felt the same without his encouragement in spite of the setbacks? Probably not.

Rule #4: Satisfaction or Success is a learner’s point of view, often determined by the trainer’s ability to help them navigate around or through failure.

What about you?
How is your training working to help learners become more focused and confident? Have you mapped out the potential ‘wobble’ and failure points? Is your training relevant, or do you have unnecessary, potentially distracting information embedded in your course? Finally, are your learners – online or in classrooms – coming away with a feeling of satisfaction or success? If not, maybe it’s time to reconsider your approach. Your instructional and motivational design can make all the difference.


Keller, J.M. (1987b). Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. Performance & Instruction.
26(8), 1-7.
Keller, J.M. (1987c). The systematic process of motivational design. Performance & Instruction,
26(9-10), 1-8.


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