Category Archives: Student Support

Motivation and Online Learning

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.


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

Photo credit: Blue Turban Photography, Flickr

Generation Next: Pew Report on Millennials

How Generation GapMillennial are You? This week the Pew Research Center released a report titled Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next – Confident. Connected. Open to Change. This group conducted a phone survey of 2,020 adults across the U.S. and then compared their responses to questions covering everything from age to tattoos. The respondents were grouped into four generations.

  • Millennials – born after 1980
  • Generation X – born 1965 through 1980
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946 through 1964
  • Silent Generation – born 1928 though 1945

In the context of education Millennials are in high school and college and are young professionals, while Gen Xers are teachers and faculty members at schools and universities. Millenials are also supervised on their jobs by Gen Xers. Millennials are on their way to becoming the most educated generation, but are also perhaps the most affected by the current economic recession in terms of employment.

My focus in graduate school was on millennial college students (their preferences and experiences with technology and career services) so I was interested in reading more. A lot of interesting comparisons are made and some not so surprising. Millennial students are more likely to be involved with social networking sites online, more likely to have piercings, and perhaps less likely to vote Republican.

Participants who thought that their generation was unique in some way were asked to be more specific.  The top five responses for Millennials were: 1) technology use, 2) pop culture, 3) liberal values, 4) smarter/more educated, and 5) clothing/manner of dress. Compare that to GenX where the top five responses were 1) technology, 2) work ethic, 3) conservative values, 4) smarter/more educated, and 5) respectfulness. Some similarities and differences there.

How much do you have in common with the Millennial Generation? The Pew Research Center also posted an online quiz “How Millennial are You” that allows you to compare yourself (characteristics, preferences, etc.) I scored a 65/100.

For more information…

Follow @Pew_Internet, @PewResearch,  #millennials

Additional reading:

photo credit: Joi, Flickr

Getting (Online) Students Ready

RunwayI don’t think it is completely out of line to say that not all students, or prospective students, are ready to begin online programs when they enroll.  I recently overheard an online instructor say: “The students enroll in class, buy a computer, and on the first day of class turn the computer on.” This group of students is non-traditional, usually working full-time, and often returning to school after a long absence. The preparation of these students falls on the shoulders of the instructor of their first course who is expected to help them with everything from computer set-up to LMS familiarization. All of this takes time and focus away from the course content and schedule and can result in frustration of all involved.

How do you prepare your online students to actively participate in the experience on Day One of Term One? Ideally, there is some sort of formal New Student Orientation available – developed by your institution and customized to meet the needs of your students and programs. This experience would include not only web pages and tutorials, but also helpful assistants available to answer questions and address concerns.

An online orientation might include:

  • Learning basic computer skills: such as using email and sending attachments.
  • Buying and setting up a computer: downloading plug-ins, protecting from viruses, selecting hardware and software.
  • Accessing the Internet: choosing and using Internet browsers, finding an ISP, using unsecured wi-fi hot spots.
  • Preparing to participate: how to navigate the course LMS interface, uploading/downloading of course materials and assignments, communicating in discussion boards, virtual classrooms, and via email and instant messaging.
  • Managing time, resources, and stress: awareness of expectations; availability of counseling, advising, and support resources; tips, suggestions, and recommendations from successful students.

If a customized orientation is not available, there are a lot of existing options online. A few examples are listed below. Consider sharing some of your favorites.

photo credit: Oddsock, Flickr