Helping students motivate themselves to complete an open, online courses

There have been lots of discussions elsewhere about motivating students to complete a MOOC or open, online course. I have previously focused my discussions around the learning design and tools to maximise variation and engagement.

A review of motivational theories (Dawson, S., (1996) Analysing Organisations), discusses the Expectancy Theory. This approach predicts the behaviours of the individual will reflect the person’s selection of goals and what they have learned and what they believe will produce the reward they seek. Therefore, this acknowledges the complexity of motivational theory – people aren’t the same, and a person’s motivation changes over time and with circumstances.

However, this does give a little food for thought. For instance, to what extent do we encourage online learners (even face to face learners) to articulate their motivations for undertaking the course? If we do this, is it simply an online form for us to collect information or do we use their ideas as a point of reference for a future discussion with them, and as part of the individuals ongoing monitoring framework?

A key aspect of expectancy theory is goal setting. These goals can be set by the organisation (us designing and running the online course) or by the individual. Remember, student setting their own goals is an important component of Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick (2006) Model of Formative Assessment & Feedback


Source from:

So given the richness of discussion how are we actually applying this into the design of our online courses? I’d suggest we aren’t. So the following is a step in the right direction for inclusion within our (UCS) Online Digital Literacy Programme. We will require student within the first activity to complete a short reflective post or free text survey which answers the following two questions:

  1. What is motivating you to complete this course?
  2. What goals have you set yourself? For instance, is it to complete the course? or Learn something new?

However, we will also require the tutor(s) on the course to read and respond to these questions.  This aims to help the learner motivate themselves to engage and complete the course. This mirrors the work in Salmon’s 5-step model, which some course designers seem to have forgotten, or do not devote the required resource for this activity.

To answer the question, what about resources? Well, if we focus our provision on OOCs and not MOOCs this is achievable.


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