By Cait Etherington February 13, 2017
Self motivation is essential to eLearning initiatives. In the growing body of research on MOOCs, for example, lack of motivation among students continues to emerge as the main reason why students fail to complete online courses. In part, this reflects the nature of the eLearning environment. As Rajermani Thinakaran and Rosmah Ali report in their 2015 study on teaching programming languages through eLearning:
A fundamental factor which affects students’ performance is their learning efficacy and motivation. In the classroom, educators know how to motivate their students and how to exploit this knowledge to optimize their teaching when a student shows demotivation signs. In eLearning environments it is much more difficult to evaluate student motivation level.
While lack of motivation remains a problem, a growing body of research suggests that instructional design can be used to ensure that students feel motivated to complete eLearning courses.
Researchers Noorihan Abdul Rahman and Shamsul Sahibuddin emphasize, “Social presence plays its role in the social place regardless of face-to-face communication or in social networking, and this includes e-Learning applications since e-Learning is a virtual medium for learners to communicate among themselves. In virtual communication, social presence is needed to gain a sense of connectedness albeit through an interface.” Instructional designers can foster this sense of connectedness on several levels (e.g. exchanging information). In many eLearning contexts, interactions with instructors is also critical (e.g., one-on-one online meetings to discuss progress on a regular basis). Self motivation is essential to eLearning but a key part of self motivation comes from one’s interactions with other learners and instructors.
In the past, one of the primary difference between classrooms and distance learning courses was that the former fostered opportunities for collaborative work and the latter did not. Today, this is no longer the case. Indeed, for many students, collaborations carried out on line are not only more feasible but also more rewarding. From crowd sourcing information to developing final projects using online collaborative online sharing platforms, such as Google Docs, there are myriad possibilities. Understanding that self motivation is essential to eLearning and that collaboration is one way to promote motivation, instructional designers are increasingly building collaborative opportunities into course design.
In eLearning environments, regular assessments are critical. The more often one checks in with students and provides feedback on their progress (positive or negative), the more likely students are to complete their online courses. The key is to use an entire variety of assessment models. Common approaches to assessment include informal summaries and reflections; visual assessments that ask students to organize information and make connections using graphic organizers, and more traditional tests of knowledge and skills.
While assessment is one way to motivate students, so is gamification. In a nutshell, gamification uses game elements in non-game contexts to change people’s behaviors whether they are buying products or engaged in an online course. In an eLearning environment, there is growing evidence that gamification can play a critical role in motivating students. The success of gamification has much to do with the fact that gamified educational environments give students increased agency to work at their own pace. With gamification, the goal is to create a course that is truly addictive. This means that one needs to build a course that one can complete as quickly as they wish. After all, just as one might go on a binge weekend of gaming, with gamification there is an expectation that students will turn such desires to learning. As Jared R. Chapman and Peter Rich recently reported in a presentation delivered to the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, “Gamification’s emphasis on engaging students at an emotional, social, and cognitive level has the potential to ameliorate some of online education’s challenges.”
As was the case in traditional classrooms, rewards drive student motivation online. Building rewards into one’s course design is essential. Whether it’s the virtual badges sometimes given when gamification is deployed or the actual number of final course credits, rewards help motivate nearly all learners. However, ultimately, self motivation is essential to eLearning. The challenge for instructional designers to find ways to built self-motivating factors into courses from the ground up.