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Motivation and Online Learning

May 30, 2010

Recently I attended an online lecture by Dr. Richard E. Clark.  This post is a summary of the information and resources presented in this live session and ideas on the application to the design of online learning.

How does motivation impact learning? Dr. Clark provided an overview of motivation for learning and sparked discussion about the role of games and simulations. He got the group’s attention immediately with a couple of numbers: motivation accounts for 30% of learning and 60% of transfer.

Motivation is a behavior – well, three behaviors, actually:

  • Starting a new task
  • Persisting once the new task has been started
  • Exerting mental effort, investing, in the learning process.

Motivation problems result from not performing these behaviors:

  • Not beginning a new task on time
  • Not persisting in newly started task – distractions!
  • Not exerting mental effort to learn something new.

These problems are not hard to find among online students.

What can course designers do to help students?

  • Provide clear instructions that include the details necessary to proceed at the start.  Do they know what needs to be done? Dr. Clark stated that most people would rather be considered difficult than inept or incapable. Many won’t ask for help or clarification prompting a motivation related issue before the course is begun.
  • Provide clear expectations regarding deadlines – this might include milestones, course calendars, reminders to plan ahead for future assignments and course requirements.
  • Consider issues related to cognitive load. These could lead to a problem with mental effort. Dr. Clark highlighted Frank Paas’s Mental Effort Scale, a single item that measures students’ perceptions of their cognitive load while engaged a specific learning task.
  • Consider possible impact of learner characteristics on motivation. What motivates any individual to start, persist, or invest in learning will be different from the next person. Our own motivations are not those of the students we are designing for. Culture, age, beliefs, and personal experiences can all play a part in this.
  • Present to students the value of the learning event, outcomes, and experience. What is the risk of not learning?

What can faculty/instructors do additionally to help students?

  • Communicate with individual students – are there other problems going on in the student’s life that may result in failure to start, persist or invest, but are not related to motivation?
  • Provide feedback that confirms the student’s ability to complete the task, but guides him/her to identify why they may not be motivated to complete the task.

  • Monitor student effort throughout the experience and provide feedback tailored to the specific kind of motivation problem. Attribute the learner’s success and failure to his or her effort.

Engagement vs. motivation – Dr. Clark acknowledged the widespread use of the word engagement in online learning circles and reminded us that engagement is not motivation in total. He described “engagement as an alternative word for persistence; enthusiastic persistence”.

Entertainment vs. motivation – Games, simulations, and enjoyment of learning were all mentioned. Dr. Clark clarified that while technology rich practice environments can be helpful (such as simulations) games can be a distraction.

Resources

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents, (Vol. 5., pp. 307-337). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Hove: Psychology Press, Taylor and Francis Group.

Eccles, J. S., & Wigfield, A. (2002). Motivational beliefs, values, and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 109-132

Paas, F., Tuovinen, J. E., Tabbers, H., & van Gerven, P. (2003). Cognitive load measurement as a means to advance cognitive load theory. Educational Psychologist, 38, 63-71.

Petty, G. (n. d.) Dweck’s Theory of Motivation. Retrieved from http://teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html

Photo credit: Blue Turban Photography, Flickr

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