Motivation in Online Course Environments

A colleague sent me a link yesterday to a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) being run on CourseSites that is entitled Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success.  The course is designed to address student motivation in blended and online course environments.  So far it is an effectively designed course with content and readings that I find personally very engaging and thought-provoking.

The first reading I read was a chapter from Bonk and Dennen (2007) called ‘We’ll leave he light on for you: Keeping learners motivated in online courses’ and it addressed 10 key motivators in the online classroom.  These motivators were:  tone/climate, feedback, engagement, meaningfulness, choice, variety, curiosity, tension, peer interaction and goal driven.  As I read through the chapter I could definitely envisage how I might better design courses and help academics in the design of their online courses.

Tone/climate is about fostering and developing a safe and open environment in which to be confident in making new connections and interacting with others whilst perhaps feeling somewhat vulnerable, as you have never met any of those in your class, is so important.  Icebreakers were one of the strategies mentioned and I have personally found these very engaging and effective motivators.  In a course I helped to facilitate last year a colleague of mine wrote an icebreaker activity into the first forum that was rather creative and proved to be very engaging.  The task was to introduce yourself but then to identify the animal you would most likely be if you were an animal.  The answers were funny and started some great online interactions with the course participants.

Curiosity as presented in this chapter to me can be translated into the constructivist and student-centred approach being facilitated.  If a course encourages students to seek further information and construct their own new meaning from content beyond the formal learning context then curiosity is the motivator and constructivism is the key learning theory being embraced.  Students need to be given a certain amount of freedom to explore the topic, develop questions of their own that they seek the answers for.  Perhaps another way to encourage curiosity is to also use a stimulus that gets the students thinking and makes them interested in developing further knowledge on the topic, finding out even more than what is presented.

Finally, the concept of tension was interesting to me and I have not often thought about it when designing units of work.  When Bonk and Dennen talk about tension that are not talking about conflict but are speaking of the provocation that they might seek to develop into their content and activities.  An activity where this might be seen could be a forum where are stimulus is presented that presents a very one-sided and inflexible opinion on a concept, leaving participants in the course divided in their response to the stimulus.  This kind of response is tension that could develop into some very good online discussions.

If you have not read any of Bonk and Dennen’s work, I highly suggest doing so as it is a very easy and highly insightful read.


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