On Motivating Distance Learners

Disclaimer: My remarks are based on a cursory reading of an academic paper. This is part of a survey of research topics of interest to me.

Pittenger, A., & Doering, A. (2010). Influence of motivational design on completion rates in online self-study pharmacy-content courses. Distance Education, 31(3), 275-293. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.513953 (Noted bibliographic sources from this article will be listed at the end of my post.)

My interest in the article is quoted from p. 276: “One of the more global factors influencing online course completion rates is motivational design (Keller, 1999; Martens, Gulikers, & Bastiaens, 2004; Sankaran & Bui, 2001), which, when successful, establishes and maintains not only personal motivation, but also fosters a sense of confidence and satisfaction in students with the use of pedagogically anchored instructional design (Keller, 1987, 1999).”

I completed my MA in Workforce Development and Education in 2000. I don’t recall reading about the concept of motivational design back then. The article directs me to Deimann & Keller, 2006 and McKenzie, 1999 for further information on motivational design. The study uses Keller’s (1987) ARCS motivation model of instructional design, which stands for Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. The researchers also used the Instructional Materials Motivation Survey (Keller, 1987) with modifications to accommodate multimedia instructional materials.

I may need to read graduate level statistical analysis materials to understand the terms Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA and Bonferroni correction post-hoc analysis that the researchers applied to the data! But I didn’t really read the data or the data analysis. I just skipped to the good stuff at the end.

In their conclusions, the researchers focused in part on educational scaffolding, a term which I heard and discussed in grad school but never really got hands on experience to understand the method. Some examples of scaffolding related to this research were a well organized course and weekly email prompts. The paper notes on p. 289: “Keller (2008) has expanded his 1987 ARCS model to include self-regulation or volition as a fifth important component of motivational design. Because we used Keller’s ARCS original questionnaire, we did not formally measure volitional components. However, many of the student responses to the open-ended questions reveal that self-regulation is a concern.”

My gut reaction is that having a personal connection or tie to a project would make me much more likely to do the work. But even with personal ties, I have found that I still drag my feet and perhaps fail to take the steps necessary to remedy my lack of participation. This happens when I suspect that another person may see my failure as a defect in my personality. On the one hand, I am influenced by my willingness to do the task at hand. Boring, repetitive tasks are difficult for me to start doing. On the other hand, what is even more difficult for me to start or to complete is a task which involves an external judgment on my skills or techniques. This factor paralyzed me when it came time for me to write a Master’s thesis in Chinese Pedagogy.

I have huge fluctuations in motivation that can change from day to day or even hour to hour. Motivation to do the work in the time provided is tricky. Even if I make a schedule of chunks of time for specific activities, I find myself not staying on plan. After an allotted period of time has past, I usually will want to continue the present activity. This can result in frustration when other pressing commitments do actually call me away from my work. Beginning to work at an assigned time is also difficult for me when I must force myself to stop one activity to begin another, unrelated activity.

My experiences likely vary widely from others’.

Bibliographic Materials

Deimann, M., & Keller, J.M. (2006). Volitional aspects of multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 15(2), 137–158. Retrieved from http://www.aace.org/pubs/jemh/

Keller, J.M. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2–10. Retrieved from http://www.aect.org/intranet/publications/index.asp

Keller, J.M. (1999). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instructional and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78, 39–47. Retrieved from http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/86011233/home

Keller, J.M. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning. Distance Education, 29(2), 175–185. doi: 10.1080/01587910802154970

Martens, R.L., Gulikers, J., Bastiaens, T. (2004). The impact of intrinsic motivation on elearning in authentic computer tasks. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20(5), 368–376. Retrieved from http://www.jcal.info/

McKenzie, J. (1999). Scaffolding for success. The Educational Technology Journal, 9(4). Retrieved from http://fno.org/index.html

Sankaran, S., & Bui, T. (2001). Impact of learning strategies and motivation on performance: A study in Web-based instruction. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 28(3), 191–198. Retrieved from http://www.projectinnovation.biz/jip_2006.html


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