Friday, September 16, 2011

70. More on Students' Motivation

Changes in Student Motivation During Online Learning
K. Kim, T. W. Frick. J. Educational Computing Research, Vol. 44(1) 1-23, 2011

While this article moves aways from the more focused themes of structured online learning (whether in its pure online or blended forms), and refers specifically to the Self-directed e-learning (SDEL) students, some of the findings and reflections from the study I believe carry value for bigger conversations, around designing concerns and also ways to appeal and support students' motivation. So I thought it would be worth placing some of my reflections in here. I also consider the relevance of the study based on its publishing date. Research continues to be needed on a number of fronts in online learning (and specifically in ESL) as findings bring to the surface the complexity of the topic and the dynamics of online learning, that are at the same time, similar and different from more traditional educational settings.

In a nutshell, the findings of the research spoke to three key aspects of factors that motivate students in SDEL environments to complete and be satisfied with the learning experiences. Keeping in mind that SDEL environments usually do not include access to instructors or tutors or interaction with a community of learner, the following reflections were generated by reading the article:

  • convenience and flexibility of learning remain key factors for adult learners to chose online learning. (page 4) - we also know that for some this may be the only option to actually have access to specific learning opportunities (and for institutions to reach a great number of students)
  • additionally the ability to self-pace and control one's learning were also factors that would lead learners to make the online learning choice. Students who need a more direct, constant and familiar contact with instructors and peers would feel better in more traditional learning settings.
  • learner control affect motivation in computer-mediated learning settings - specifically around the ideas of: sequencing, pacing and access to support. This specific item can make us consider ways in which learning pathways can be established not necessarily in a sequenced fashion, but more as options/choices, in the online learning, to support student motivation even in more structured learning environments.
  • the article mentions the idea of playfulness as also a factor to keep in mind - online learning spaces that allow for a sense of playfulness can positively enhance the motivation of learners.
  • of course technology support and efficiency are critical - technology is the lifeline of the learner in these environments - if it breaks down the communication is interrupted and frustration levels rise.
  • social presence was mentioned even though, in SDLE settings, students are aware of more independent and 'solitary' learning experiences
  • ultimately the article summarizes the factors in three categogires: internal, external and personal
  • relevance of learning goals and tasks was found to be the number one factor for motivation to proceed and stick with the learning experience (the course) - we have considered in previous posts how relevance is not a new element of the learning, and that one way to support this factor is to ensure that appropriate and effective uses of the specific tool or online space is made, in direct connection with the pedagogy behind the choice of the task.
  • automaticity was also found to be a factor that affected the choice of the online learning in students - reaching a certain level of technology use automaticity allows learners to use the cognitive load on the learning task and not on how to complete it.
The key message from the article is probably the one below:
In summary, data from our study suggest that learners are more likely to experience increased motivation and satisfaction in self-directed e-learning when they: a) perceive the content to be relevant to their lives; b) are technologically fluent; c) are more highly motivated both at the beginning and during the e-learning course; and d) perceive the e-learning experience to be "just right" for them" (page 17)
One important note is my first encounter with the research around the first principles of instruction (problem-centered tasks and relevance to one's personal life). These principles sound very similar to the ideas in online games design of the wicked-problems and the idea that we can, as players, successfully solve them (they are quests just one step higher than our current skills and knowledge - Jane McGonigal Work is phenomenal in this area. I highly recommend you take time to find out about her at Ted.

Finally, maybe the most important part of the article is the Table on the last page, which outlines principles to sustain motivation is self-directed learners. Some of these principles can inspire design and delivery of online learning for ESl adult learners in more structured courses. I list some below:
  • find ways to make content relevant to learners
  • incorporate multimedia content (this, in the case of ESL learners is more of a need than a suggestion)
  • if possible use real-world types of activities (in bridging programs for ESL this is also an essential element of the course design)
  • respect Vygostky's principles
  • articulate effectively feedback (when instructors are present ensure they are timely in giving the feedback and can personalized the responses to stduents' work and offer support)
  • respect principles of easy navigation of the website

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