IT Teaching Resources

Motivation as a lens to understand online learners

An article on how open online learning environments are a novel convergence of traditional course structures

Article Research Promising practices

Title: Motivation as a Lens to Understand Online Learners: Toward Data-Driven Design with the OLEI Scale
Authors: René F. Kizilcec and Emily Schneider

Key points

  • Learners who enrolled with peers or colleagues generally got more out of the course than learners who enrolled on their own. This suggests that social structures could and should be considered in course design
  • Technology and pedagogy in MOOCs today are most strongly influenced by the grammar of schooling from traditional classrooms. However, many students in MOOCs go beyond the expectations of the course and engage with additional media platforms to get the outcomes that they want

Open online learning environments attract an audience with diverse motivations who interact with structured courses in several ways. To systematically describe the motivations of these learners, we developed
the Online Learning Enrollment Intentions (OLEI) scale, a 13-item questionnaire derived from open-ended responses to capture learners’ authentic perspectives. Although motivations varied across courses, we found that each motivation predicted key behavioral outcomes for learners (N = 71, 475 across 14 courses). From learners’ motivational and behavioral patterns, we infer a variety of needs that they seek to gratify by engaging with the courses, such as meeting new people and learning English. To meet these needs, we propose multiple design directions, including virtual social spaces outside any particular course, improved support for local groups of learners, and modularization to promote accessibility and organization of course content. Motivations thus provide a lens for understanding online learners and designing online courses to better support their needs.

What would this look like in a course?
  • Instructors can offer more support to ensure timely submission of assignments and well-balanced coursework.
  • Consider incorporating more forums and chats in a course to allow students more opportunities to post or share.
  • Provide more group projects or assignment options that promote social engagement and community building.

Kizilcec, R. F., & Schneider, E. (2015). Motivation as a lens to understand online learners: Toward data-driven design with the OLEI scale. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)22(2), 1-24.