Tag Archives: Engagement

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 http://teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_Dweck.html

Photo credit: Blue Turban Photography, Flickr

Connecting – Networked Learning

This post is my reaction to the George Siemens presentation on 9/29. The main topic was connectivism, but he covered much more ground ranging from a review of learning psychology theorists/theories to artificial intelligence and neuroscience. Using a couple of the presentation’s prompts as a guide, here are the ideas that resonated with me.

LightMyPath-FaithGobleHow do we teach (design) differently?

Since I am an instructional designer, not an instructor, I modified this question a little: How do we design formal educational experiences differently? As noted in the presentation, we have technologies available that allow us to store information and knowledge (and lots of it) outside of ourselves, outside of our own memories. These technologies offer ways to “off load part of our thinking”. Designing courses, particularly ones that will be delivered online can use these technologies, should incorporate these storage tools in ways that make the massive amounts of stored information accessible to learners, and allowing them to move beyond. Designers are thinking more about how to get students to interact and engage with these knowledge stores through course assignments and activities. The days of weekly quizzes are not gone, but I see them less and less as a ‘must-have’ presented by a faculty content expert.

George Siemens also brought attention to the idea of resonance. One of the definitions of this word is “a quality of evoking response“. What resonates with a student? This is a question instructional designers should respond to more often when working with development teams, especially ones that include teaching faculty. I often ask the question: how should a learner be different after completing the course? Perhaps this question should be tweaked to further delve into resonance. What has meaning to the learner? What will have meaning to the learner? Motivation is part of this. Context is a part of this. Engagement is a part of this.

Capturing that opportunity to engage a student is related to resonance. Identifying that opportunity is another thing. More careful evaluation techniques might help. End-of-course surveys are fairly common, but maybe adding interviews or focus groups with students throughout a course, especially in its first run, would be helpful. Certainly not all students are motivated by the same things, and not all students find resonance in the same things within a course.  What about including students in the course design process? Not instructional design students, but students from the department to which the course being designed belongs. Analysis (learner) and Evaluation seem to be the two areas most likely to be abbreviated or left behind completely in course design. Why?  Time and budget constraints, I suppose, but think about the lost opportunity there.

What about lurkers? Which is what I suppose I am, in the eci831 course where I find these presentations. What resonates with them and how are they engaged? What is their motivation for being in the course and for lurking? George suggests that being a lurker may not be a good thing. Not a bad thing, mind you, but a lost opportunity. There is an assumption that those who lurk are 1) less knowledgeable and 2) less confident members of the group. The idea is that these beginners could be helpful to the overall learning process of both their fellow learners and their instructors, if, they allow themselves and their own learning processes to be transparent to the others. In doing so, they offer a new and different perspective from that of their expert instructors and add to the experience of the rest of the class.

Designers should consider lurkers as part of the audience, finding ways to pull these people into the conversation and making it more appealing for them to want to choose to be transparent to the other participants and their instructors. Alternative assignments might be a way, particularly in F2F or blended situations that easily lend themselves to this – students could choose to participate in synchronous discussion or asynchronous discussion but experience both. I once worked with a faculty member who taught one of those undergraduate, auditorium courses with little class participation, except when he opened up a space in the courses companion LMS site. There he saw not only active participation, but also small study groups forming. This kind of thing could be designed into a course.

Where do we turn for guidance?

George pointed out that the youth culture of today is making up its own rules about how these technologies should be used, how to participate in networks, etc. Their parents and teachers aren’t modeling these things, showing them the ropes. They didn’t have these kinds of technologies and networks. It’s a similar situation in higher education. We need to turn to those who are actively using these technologies and networks. Encouraging these individuals, groups, and institutions to talk openly about what they are doing, to document what works and doesn’t work in their context(s) is enormously important. Disseminating this information should be more instant than publishing books and in journals. It just takes too long to get the word out. This will mean changing the mindset of higher ed at-large regarding what is appropriate and scholarly work. While many people, like George Siemens, are actively blogging, can you get tenure this way? Maybe not.

Other stuff to pass along…

Photo credit: Faith Goble, Fickr

Community, Engagement, Audience – and the stuff between the bricks

After watching the presentation given by Dr. Richard Schwier (yes, the recording again – my night owl days are over) I was left with moments of “a-ha” and “hmmm”. Here’s my attempt to make some sense of it all.


The stuff growing between the bricks — A great analogy: Dr. Schwier talked of learning in terms of formal, non-formal, and informal – formal learning can be thought of as taking place within a fence: a structure that sets up what is inside and outside, a perimeter existing around what is learning and what is not learning in a specific context, such as a class. Non-formal (and informal?) learning can then be thought of as the stuff growing between the bricks that make up the fence: the weeds, flowers, moss that make the fence that much more interesting. They are similar and different in terms of those things that make the learning happen (catalysts); the ideas, places, and relationships around which learning is focused (emphases); and the actions and conditions that encourage or discourage the learning process (elements). My apologies to Dr. Schwier for my superficial treatment of this work – explore the research around Virtual Learning Environments.

Interaction/Engagement — The definitions of these two terms in the context of learning and education are becoming more distinct. Interacting is not necessarily engaging… but is engaging a form of interaction? In my mind there is a continuum of action here, levels of participation, of doing something. A simple example might be my review of the recorded presentation in Elluminate. My interaction included clicking the link to start the recording, taking notes on the speaker’s lecture…but then something in the chat caught my attention (a related conversation on the importance of trust among participants in these environments) and I was off exploring URLs that were presented in the chat, reading other students’ blog posts about this issue. As I read I began to relate all of this to my own past experience in online courses and in deciding how much information I wanted to include about myself in online profiles, accounts, etc.  That to me is engagement.


“Does the audience matter” … in your online social networks and interaction? — I am inclined to say that the audience does matter. When I post to my blog, tweet, or send an old fashioned email, I am very likely to edit and censor. It’s all representative of me, personally and professionally, and public. Since I am making the choice to put myself out there in these ways, every post is a choice I make about how I will be perceived. (Whether or not these things are read is another issue.) I am creating an online identity. Dr. Schwier’s work involves the importance of trustworthiness, empathy, forgiveness, intimacy… in online learning communities. Trusting a large group of people that you haven’t met, with information about yourself and your thoughts can be daunting – especially for someone who is more inclined to be introverted or private. I’ve been watching a couple of exchanges on Twitter this week about whether or not to use a real name or create a “handle” of some sort. You have to make choices about privacy and transparency – what is suitable for work, home, friends, school….what is suitable for public consumption. Is it possible to be carefully adventurous? I think that is how I would describe my own efforts over the last couple of years.

Two related items found recently on Twitter:

“Community is a tired but useful metaphor” — I admit to never having liked the word community in the context of learning and education. Perhaps it just seemed too formal, too structured, too limiting, requiring too much effort to be a member…hmmm…requires membership. In Hawaii the word of choice might be hui meaning “club, association, firm; to join, unite, introduce, meet; a plus sign +”. There must be other ways to express a group of people gathered together to learn about something they are all interested in – without crossing the line into what might be too personal, too intimate. Tribe? Team?…

Other stuff to pass along…

Dunbar’s number – Applying this to online communities, online courses, social networking.

MOOC – Massive online open course There are more!

CIDER – Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research