Tag Archives: Online Social Learning

Still Motivated to Learn?

This fortnight I have continued with my reading on motivation of students, again my frustration has continued with the limited papers available on the motivation of learners in a non/informal learning environment, so with the previous blog post I have been reading about motivation in formal teaching for students and applied it to non/informal learning.


What is important to understand about motivation and students, is that there are many types of motivation and many types of student. The difficulty in applying such principles to informal learners is that the consideration to scale and scope must be given. It is not possible to individually support learners, such as within a formal setting with students, so instead more automated needs are called upon which may not be relevant to some learning styles.

Makinen et al (2004) state that there are three groups of students based on their approaches to day-to-day study:

  • Study orientated students – ‘place genuine importance on the contents of studying…[and]…also appreciate the social elements of studying, such as student parties and peer interaction’.
  • Work-life orientated students – ‘have already taken a mental step toward their future work career…they belittle the meaning of student life ad highlight the importance of careful planning of studying in order to graduate fast’.
  • Non-committed students – ‘unclear study orientation. High anxiety also distinguishes these students who are still clarifying the personal meaning of study’.

Miller et al (1999) make links between the value of study and motivation:

‘learning goal scores were positively related to intrinsic valuing scores…individuals interested in increasing competence and knowledge tended to experience enjoyment and satisfaction in their learning. However…experiencing enjoyment and satisfaction from school tasks was also related to perceiving those school tasks as instrumental to personally valued future goals, despite the substantial amount of shared variance between learning goals and perceived instrumentality…experiencing intrinsic satisfaction depends in part on perceiving the activity as instrumental to attaining personally valued future goals.’

Miller et al (1999)

What is demonstrated here is that the creation of a link between the long term aims and the short term tasks has a positive impact on the value of the task and therefore any subsequent motivations. It is possible to consider that a lack or absence of a link between the two could diminish or remove any form of motivation.

‘future goals represent important incentives for present action, but only when current tasks are perceived as instrumental to attainment of those future goals’

Miller et al (1999)

Rhodes and Nevill (2004) take this concept one step further and instead of the identification of an ‘end goal’ they instead state that the presence and absence of ‘satisfiers’ and ‘disatisfiers’ will have an impact on motivation. Satisfiers include; the achievement of academic success, securing career prospects, intellectually challenging, ability to cope, high level of control. Disatisfiers include; study/life balance, ability to cope, assessment techniques, other student’s views, society’s views of students.

Rhodes and Nevill (2004) discovered that students were equally motivated by ‘knowledge acquisition’ and ’empowerment in the job market’ which draw once again upon the earlier discussion by Miller that there needs to be a link between long term aims and short term tasks.

Siefert (2004) identifies four psychological theories of motivation which could be applied to a learning context:

  • Self-efficacy theory states that motivation is located within individuals confidence levels, in that if the belief is there to achieve a task or challenge then engagement with the task is more likely. Students who are more efficacious and essentially capable are more likely to be self-regulating in nature, and participative in nature when addressing study activities, including those thought to be beyond their skill set, believing that they are able to successfully undertake the challenge.
  • Attribution theory inquires into the ways in which individuals perceived causes to outcomes, or create explanations on an individual basis as to why events result in certain outcomes. The attributions created may have positive or negative emotions attached to it, which can in turn determine future behaviours and calls to action when addressing further challenges. The attributions to scenarios made are individual to a learner and can be influenced by a number of factors including the learner’s level of self-efficacy, with highly efficacious people more likely to internalise explanations and those less confidence opting for more ‘external’ causes to their explanations. Siefart states that there are three elements to attribution; the locus of causality, stability of the cause, and controllability of the cause.
  • Self worth theory has a clear link to motivation in the learner’s ability to enhance and maintain self-worth. The framework assumes that self worth is required for basic every day functionality, and defined as ‘judgement one makes about one’s sense of worth and dignity as a person’ which is often connected to performance. In the field of learning, self worth is associated with the ability to perform tasks which results in pride and self esteem. Failure due to low effort can result in guilt, whilst failure due to high effort can result in humiliation and shame. This links back to the theory of the ‘strategic student’ as a balance is required to become ‘failure avoidant’ whilst maintaining self worth, though may be ill conceived as ‘failure avoidant’ students are more likely to strive to look competent but without investing the motivation into their own abilities and motivation above that of strategic worth.
  • Achievement goal theory is similar to the research by Makinen in that it states that academic motivation is the attempt to achieve goals, whilst behaviours used are those that are required to achieve the relevant goals. Such learners would have high levels of self regulation and self determination and are more likely to achieve cognitive development with the understanding that effort is strongly linked to success and/or failure and enjoy the challenge that learning brings whilst accepting responsibility for their efforts. If confidence in their abilities is high then they are more likely to demonstrate adaptive behaviours than those with low confidence who demonstrate maladaptive behaviours.

Seifert goes on to suggest that these four theories are by no means exclusive and it fact it may be possible for the four theories to interact with perceptions of a learner’s self worth impacting on their motivations regarding performance goals, and those motivated by performance goals may demonstrate failure avoidant tendencies. What links all four theories together is the understanding or sense of self, but what effects all four theories is the learner’s willingness to take responsibility for their own actions with regards to learning, which though results in confidence also requires it to achieve the challenges to generate it.

‘For students to develop into healthy, adaptive and constructive individuals, it is imperative to foster feelings of competence and control. Previous research has suggested that the teacher-student interaction is the critical factor in fostering a sense of competence and autonomy’

Seifert (2004)

It is important to draw from the theories discussed above that there is a link between that of the role of an individual’s own goals with their of their awareness or capability to achieve them. The strand that connects these two elements together is that of meaning. Miller et all (1999) state that only if students perceive such links then they will be truly motivated to achieve long term goals.

‘Perceived meaning is important in motivating behaviour. The mastery student is able to find meaning in the work. If students do not find the work meaningful and tend to make external attributions, then work avoidance may develop. To this point, however little attention has been paid to meaning in studies of academic motivation…If students do not understand what it is they are supposed to do, then they may not be able to discern the relevance of the topic. Likewise, if students do not feel capable of understanding the topic, they may not find the work meaningful.’

Seifert (2004)

As discussed earlier it is important that the ‘perceived meaning’ is not that only associated with grades, but instead the knowledge and skills created and developed in the engagement with academic studies required to achieve such grades. Breen (1999) discovered that motivation is linked to the desire to gain high grades and the interest in the subject matter from which the marks are gained. Breen also added that the importance of the involvement with the culture around which the subject is studied is influential in the aforementioned two factors. In the attainment of high marks Macdonald (2002) suggests that the problem with exams may not be the examinations themselves, rather the students perceptions of what is required in preparation for the examinations and the negative connotation that examinations are for testing knowledge, rather than the positive connotation that examinations can boost subject knowledge through targeted study. Upon gaining their results students will then self-evaluate (Jackson 2003) their marks against the effort invested and could in turn produce either vicious or virtuous cycles of motivation in future study.

For learners in the informal domain, they have additional external pressures not normally felt by traditional residential campus based student, such as balancing work and a family in conjunction with their learning. Such a presence of external pressures can have an additional impact on their achievements as it has a direct correlation to motivation in light of conflicting priorities and should be taken in consideration in comparison to their more tradition student counterparts:

‘Students have considerable free time to plan their own study time and they can choose whether to spend their time on study or other activities. Therefore progress in higher education depends on student’s disciplines to study regularly’

Janson (2004)

However studies by Halbesleben et al (2003) suggest that a number of tutors had the sense that many of their students do not allocate enough of their time to their academic studies.

Previously when reviewing papers on gamification Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) concept of ‘flow’ was examined, Despaul et al (2004) suggest that with regards to motivation a ‘flow state’ can be achieved for ‘optimal experiences’ through high challenges and high skill requirements. Like with Csikzentmihalyi, Despaul also states that there needs to be a balance within the flow state otherwise boredom (low challenge/high skills) or anxiety (high challenge/low skills) can occur. Despaul also states that the flow state can be effected by contextual and external factors such as setting and social environment.

‘while activation was highest at home and alone, the optimal mental states were reached in social situations….engagement in study is not intrinsically motivating and will be minimised to maximise social activities and pursue more motivating activities’

Despaul et al (2004)

Lizzio and Wilson (2004) also argue that skills are key to aiding motivation, ‘…the value students place on capabilities is the key factor in influencing their level of motivation for further development’. They found that student beliefs about skills varied depending on gender, subject, career plans, age and life experience. However in their studies, students identified six areas of skill requirement:

  • written communication and literacy
  • communication and leadership
  • disciplinary/professional
  • problem-solving
  • conceptual thinking and organisational membership
  • personal responsibility

‘students rated all skill areas (except written communication) as more relevant to their future work than their present course of study. Students appear to perceive the ‘world of work’ as demanding a greater range of skills than academic study’

Lizzio and Wilson (2004)

What is important to draw from this is the understanding that identification and development of skills is important to career opportunities which throughout the literature is a repeating factor in respect to motivation. However, as previously encountered in the literature a strongly weighted preoccupation towards career related performance can have a negative impact in daily motivation if the links aren’t created between the development of learning and skills with that of the long term career aspirations. However, we mustn’t lose sight of those that learn without association to career progression:

‘Learning for learning’s sake is something we should criticise very warily. People want to learn simply because learning is wonderful… You get a taste for learning and then you want to learn even more’.

Kim Howells (quoted in Smithers 2004)

Breen (1999) suggests that students will often select subjects due to a sense of affinity for the academic content and its associated culture, and the access of which would greatly enhance motivation.

What has become increasing clear from the literature is that motivation is strongly tied to outcome, but the associations linked to the outcome such as knowledge developed, skills acquired and refined, student culture, etc. are not necessarily identified by students as important to the outcome. The forging of such understanding may, as the literature suggests, have a greater impact on student motivation.


Breen, R. (1999). Student motivation and conceptions of disciplinary knowledge. Paper presented at the HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, Australia, July 1999.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass

Despaul, P.A.E.G., Reis, H.T., and de Vries, M.W. (2004). Ecological and motivational determinants of activation: studying compared to sports and watching TV. Social Indicators Research 67. 129-143

Halbelsleben, J.R. B., Becker, J.A.H., and Buckley, M.R. (2003). Considering the labor contributions of students: An alternative to the student-as-customer metaphor. Journal of Education for Business. 78 (5). 255-257

Jackson, C. (2003). Transitions into higher education: gendered implications for academic self-concept. Oxford Review of Education 29 (3). 331-346

Jansen, E.P.W.A. (2004). The influence of the curriculum organisation on study progress in higher education. Higher Education 47, 411-435.

Lizzio, A. and Wilson, K. (2004). First-year students’ perceptions of capability. Studies in Higher Education 29 (1), 109-128

Macdonald, J. (2002). ”Getting it together and being put on the spot”. synopsis, motivation and examination. Studies in Higher Education 27 (3). 329-337

Makinen, J., Olkinuora, E., and Lonka, K. (2004). Students at risk: students’ general study orientations and abandoning/prolonging the course of studies. Higher Education 48, 173-188

Miller, R.B., DeBacker, T. and Greene, B.a. (1999). Perceived instrumentality and academics: the link to task valuing. Journal of Instructional Psychology 26 (4). 250-260

Rhodes, C. and Nevill, A. (2004). Academic and social integration in higher education: a survey of satisfaction and dissatisfaction within a first year education studies cohort at a new university. Journal of Further and Higher Education 28 (2). 179-193

Seifert, T. L. (2004). Understanding student motivation. Educational Research 46 (2). 137-149

Smithers (2004). Learn for joys not just jobs says new minister. The Guardian 24 September 2004

Motivation, Motivation, Motivation

I’ve decided to make a slight change to my blogging format, and start blogging fortnightly instead of weekly, not because there is a change in my motivation levels (which would be ironic considering that is the theme of my papers recently), but so I can read more and reflect more in a fortnightly post than a weekly one. Definite method to the motivational madness.

The last few weeks I have been reading papers on motivation. Frustratingly there aren’t that many papers on motivation for non-formal study (not for credit), but there are plenty on formal study (for credit). So I have been reflecting on how to reframe the themes, theories, and issues from the papers that I have been reading on formal study and deliberating how they would apply to non-formal study. This work has helped me to create my interview questions for my preparation work for my initial study.


What has come to the forefront in the researching of reasons for lack of motivation and withdrawal from studies, is that there is not one common issue. If that were so, then the issue would be focused upon and resolved, and motivation and retention related papers would not be required. A number of papers also focus on reoccurring ‘what went right’ themes in motivated and successful students, instead of focusing on ‘what went wrong’ in demotivated students.

A number of results have been researched based on the self-perception of the students, but what is crucial is the lack of discourse around the skills required to be successful in education. A reoccurring pattern is that the students see that the marker of the education (e.g. grades achieved) is the success criteria for obtaining gainful employment in the future, and seem to be blindsided by the knowledge gained, or the transferability of the skills obtained whilst studying into employment and daily life.

What is clear is that there are ‘long term’ motivations to studying at higher education level (such as employment and career opportunities) and and there are ‘short term’ motivations (such as daily study schedules). The ‘short term’ motivations, could be, for all intents and purposes, in a state of flux. Dependent on grades, feedback, subject material covered, etc. a students motivations in the short term could vary due to these factors. Because of this flux, there has been an emergence of what is considered the ‘strategic student’ or a term coined by OU students ‘the 40% rule’. These particular students lack short term motivations, and instead study at the minimal level required to obtain a pass score. The concern with such students is that a high level of resource may be required to maneuver them beyond this mindset, that the students would need to be able to respond to feedback to increase their scores, become immersed in the subject material instead of skim reading it, and understanding the skills developed (personal and academic) whilst studying are just as important as a pass grade.

What became clear from the literature read, is that there is very little on identifying the expectations of a student upon dropping out from higher education. There was a repeating pattern of ‘the course isn’t what I expected’ though there is little follow up questioning as to what the student did expect from the course. This is a key criteria in understanding not only the student’s expectations, but also the academic’s expectations upon authoring and presenting the course. Who is at fault here? Is it the student’s for not understanding the requirements of the course? The academic’s for not delivering what the course stipulated? Or the marketing and recruitment of students in possible misrepresenting the course?

What is important to remember is that the student and learner population is exceptionally diverse so the understanding of the reasons for drop out from learning may not be homogeneous in nature, though if patterns can be detected then intervention scenarios can be planned and actioned. Christie et al (2004) discovered from their research that there was no single ‘tipping point’ reason for students to withdraw from their studies, with the course not being what the student expected as a common denominator in responses provided. Though as stated previously, that this response without further investigation is almost meaningless. What was important from Christie el al’s study was that students continually misunderstood or misrepresented their own academic difficulties with the course.

Thomas (2002) identified a number of external pressures that could have an impact on the decision to withdraw from study, such as balancing studying with a job to assist in educational expenses which is related to another cited pressure of financial hardship.

The other reoccurring factor is more intangible, not only in the ability to identify and quantify it, but also in the ability to counter it – the feeling of belonging and fitting in.

‘…the extent to which the decision to continue in the face of financial (and other) difficulties is intrinsically related to the quality of relationships with other students, tutors, and support staff, and to the extent to which students feel they ‘belong’ to the university.’ 

Christie et al (2004)

Breen (1999) identified three further dimensions in addition to ‘levels of inclusiveness’ to aid the quality of learning and teaching, they are; curricula coherence and sequencing, connecting learning and understanding to other areas of study, and development of critical perspective in students. Braxton et al (2000) believed that the social integration for students to feel part of a university, must begin the classrooms of schools as a ‘gateway’ to acquiring such skills in preparation for further education.

But as discussed, the concept of fitting in, isn’t an isolated one, consideration to the expectations of the course must be given the same level of attention.

‘It is plausible that many students enter Higher Education with ill conceived ideas of what it really means to study their discipline in their chosen university. If this is taken to be true, then a discrepancy exists between expectations (and motivations) and experiences, this will undoubtedly lead to withdrawal, failure or the development of inappropriate approaches to learning.’

Breen (1999)

The real conundrum for The Open University, is how can an purely online environment be created that allows non-formal learners to feel that they fit in or belong to? Is this possible? Where a non-formal learner becomes a formal student, they are presented with their allocated tutor group forum of approximately 20 students and a dedicated tutor.

‘the basis for the development of a common set of student dispositions, or something like a ‘student habitus’…the unique residential tradition of the British university, although decreasing in importance, is a framework which nurtures and perpetuates these specific student dispositions. This framework, extending to shared student housing, halls, the library, the laboratory and the lecture theatre creates, a ‘special time and place’ with its atmosphere of deference and inquiry which, temporarily, sets students apart from the non-student world…’

Chatterton (1999)

In the instance of non-formal learning, the learner does not have these online social benefits, and with OpenLearn attracting circa 5 million learners a year, how could this community be created and maintained?

‘those students who do not live in ‘student’ accommodation…are more likely to feel marginalised from their peers, and thus that they occupy a lower position’

Thomas (2002)

There is also a distinct gap between the level of understanding and learning required at A’level to that of at Higher Education level. For the required outcome to be achieved students would need to understand ‘what needs to be learnt, and why’ (Chan 2001). This would require the development of active learning skills, which according to Braxton et al (2000) ‘enhances student knowledge and understanding’. Chan (2001) states that this level of active learning can only be achieved from an ongoing dialogue;

‘…autonomous learning experiences do not automatically turn dependent learners into autonomous ones. Frequent consultations with the students over the approach to their autonomous study are thus necessary….[and]…regular student-teacher dialogue.’

Chan (2001)

The difficulty in appreciating this viewpoint is that in the paradigm of non-formal learning, the student-teacher dialogue is at best uni-directional and based almost entirely on automated feedback structured upon predicted learner scenarios. In this situation, it is perceived that more groundwork would have to be given in the preparation of developing the skill set of autonomy in learners;

‘Learners autonomy is essentially concerned with decision making on the learner’s part…the locus of control and responsibility lies in the hands of the individual learner…the autonomous learner excepts responsibility for his/her own learning and is able to take charge of the learning, determine objectives, select methods and techniques and evaluate what has been acquired. He/she is expected to be able to make significant decisions about what is to be learnt, how and when…assuming greater responsibility for his/her learning…the autonomous learner establishes a personal agenda for learning…He/she (with or without the teacher’s help) is expected to be actively involved in the setting of goals, defining of content and working out evaluation mechanisms for assessing achievement and progress.’

Chan (2001)

Formative feedback can be very beneficial in developing an autonomous learner, but as stated above this would be automated in nature in the situation of non-formal learners as to opposed to formal students. Research by Yorke (LS1, 114-5) indicated that not only is formative feedback a valuable learning tool, but it can also aid student retention. It may be possible though to achieve formative feedback in this manner as Ridley (2004) demonstrates students ability to ‘access, interpret and evaluate information from electronic sources.’. Such formative dialogue is crucial for learners to see beyond just achieving the required marks as a matter of priority, and to develop and understanding that feedback and the ability to analyse it is just as much a part of the learning process.

One of the reoccurring themes of literature related to student motivation is that of ‘student centred’ learning, the theory being that if a student is at the centre they are more likely to enjoy the experience and continue with it. Johnson (LS1, 17) counters this by stating that such approaches are only valid to those students with the confidence of being at the centre, and those with little confidence would find such an approach as isolating and demotivating.

It is entirely plausible from the use of the theories and issues above that a student may strategically choose to develop what is known as ‘surface approaches’ (Prosser et al 2003) in that;

‘students who reported adopting surface approaches…perceive the teaching to be poorer, the goals and standards to be less clear, the workload to be too high and the assessment to be testing reproduction’

Prosser et al (2003)

What is difficult to address is that students are adopting ‘strategic student’ and ‘surface approaches’ even when the courses that they are studying are for credit and at a cost. Non-formal learners are not studying for credit and at little or no cost – does this mean that this pattern of behaviour is higher in its prevalence or re-occurrence, or that it is more or less easy to readdress?

‘With regard to friends and peers…research found that these were often the first source of advice and support for students that were considering leaving university. Local students that continued to reside at home felt that they missed out on being able to access this type of advice.’

UFNE (2001)

So what type of action needs to be taken with non-formal learners to guide them through the learning process? How will the learners know when to ask for advice, or how with the platform or system know when to display such advice when learners do or don’t know when to ask for it?

‘The challenge for universities has always been to reconcile its view that of the students to ensure that both get something from the relationship’

Corcoran (2002)

Non-formal learners enter a university system such as OpenLearn via not-for-credit learning and bring with them the perceptions of their previous study. When, for example, such learners were at school, the discourse available to them was more freely accessible than that of the online, with learners expected by their academic peers to develop skills to reflect, analyse, and respond to difficulties in their learning environment. However, students and learners may associate university teaching with knowledge and not skill development, so may struggle with this change in a more autonomous environment, which would impact on their levels of motivation.

‘the nature of an individuals’s internal forces and the extent to which they define external goals and direct the individual towards them…a problem is encountered when attempting to characterise the learning environment within which the student is oriented in order to establish towards what they are oriented’

Breen (1999)

An interesting paper by Makinen et al can be applied from students directly to learners;

‘Due to the voluntary nature of higher education, one might imagine that motivational problems would not exist among university students. It is sometimes happens, however that students whose study orientation is not clear gain access to university…because of their ambiguous orientation, they are unable to follow the typical course of studying…often the first signals of these kinds of problems are very implicit and students’ intentions to drop out surprise their fellow students, family members, and even close friends.’

Makinen et al (2004)

The barriers to entry and exit of non-formal learning are as such that they are even lower and more voluntary than that of formal study. What is important to take from the literature by Makinen is that both students and learners require a clear orientation. The more pertinent question being, is in non-formal learning is that an orientation that is created by the learner or presented by the university? In creating the orientation themselves, would a learner be more or less committed to it than if it was presented to them?

‘…how students see the meaning of and how they locate themselves in relation to their university studies as a whole…i.e. what is their general study orientation’

Makinen et al (2004)

What this review of literature has demonstrated that even with the high stakes associated with formal university study, students have difficulty with their levels of motivation. What is currently unclear from literature is the spectrum of motivation that applies to non-formal learners and to whether there is an increase in motivational issues in relation to the decrease in barriers to exit.


Braxton, J.M., Milen, J.F. and Sullivan, A.S. (2000). The influence of active learning on the college student departure process: towards a revision of Tinto’s theory. Journal of Higher Education. 71 (5). 569-590

Breen, R. (1999). Student motivation and conceptions of disciplinary knowledge. Paper presented at the HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne, Australia, July 1999.

Chan, V. (20001) Learning autonomously: the learner’s perspective. Journal of Further and Higher Education 25 (3). 285-300

Chatterton, P. (1999). University students and city centres – the formation of exclusive geographies. The case of Bristol, UK. Geoforum. 30. 117-133

Christie, H., Munro, M. and Fisher, T. (2004). Leaving university early: exploring the differences between continuing and non-continuing students. Studies in Higher Education 29 (5). 617-636

Corcoran, P. (2002). Students and universities: a dysfunctional relationship. Paper presented at the ATEM/AAPPA Conference, Canberra, August 2002.

Makinen, J., Olkinuora, E., and Lonka, K. (2004). Students at risk: students’ general study orientations and abandoning/prolonging the course of studies. Higher Education 48, 173-188

Prosser, M., Ramsden, P., Trigwell, K. and Martin, E. (2003). Dissonance in experience teaching and its relation to the quality of student learning. Studies in Higher Education 28 (1). 37-48

Ridley, D. (2004). Puzzling experiences in higher education: critical moments for conversation. Studies in Higher Education 29 (1). 91-107

Thomas, L. (2002). Student retention in higher education: the role of institutional habitus. Journal of Education Policy. 17 (4). 423-442

UFNE (2001). Student Retention, Support and Widening Participation in the North East of England. Universities for the North East, Newcastle.

Gaming With Learning Design

As mentioned in my previous blog post I will be writing a mini-lit review each weekend on the papers that I have read that week. This week I turned my attention to gamification. The purpose of this interest is through reviewing papers on learning design whilst on holiday (weekly posts about those over the forthcoming weeks) with the focus for me being on the thought process of the potential design of learning journeys and motivation in informal learning, gamification became a field of interest. Over the years I have observed how players move through levels, and keep playing for hours and days at an end, but why? What’s the hook? And how can I transfer that to learning design in informal learning journeys to increase motivation?


One of the biggest challenges in informal learning is motivation. Why is it that students undertaking formal qualifications are focused to completion, and informal learners aren’t as much? Granted there is a student drop out rate in formal higher education, but it seems not at the rate as to that of informal learners. So what motivates the student to complete where the informal learner does not? To complete, both student and learner must be motivated, but can the only motivations to learning and completion of study be a qualification in the form of letters and a certificate and the cost of formal tuition driving the student to completion? How and why is an informal learner motivated and through sound learning design can the pedagogy of an informal course aid or encourage this?

Most recently there has been growing research in the field of gamification. Previously thought largely as ‘play’ for children, a number of observations has led to the development of study in this field with the view to improving education (e.g. Emery & Enger 1972; Martin 1979; Perrone et al 1996; Squire 2002; Verenikina & Herrington 2009), with the recent explosion in technology and gaming developments there has been a significant increase in the focus of game-based learning (Garris et al 2002; Gros 2007; Pivec 2007; Hong et al 2009).

Cherryholmes (1966) presented findings that role-playing exercises enhance student motivation in comparison to the more traditional learning approaches such as lectures and case studies. Though it didn’t lead to an increase in concept learning it was stated that role-play aided in the retention of material learnt. Cherryholmes went on to state in the same findings that simulations increased the students’ interest in a topic and therefore their learning attitude. Many years later Randel et al. (1992) added that the subject matter must be taken into account when evaluating the effectiveness of using simulations, with the most beneficial being focused on the study of languages and mathematics. Druckman and Ebner (2013) counter Cherryholmes research with their own, stating that concept retention and motivation are enhanced through the use of simulation.

These are in many ways blanket statements. Through the work of Vogel et al (2006) in the conducting of meta-analyses to explore to what context does the use of games and interactive simulations become more or less effective that traditional instruction methods led me to the examine whether this would have a connection with the four types of learning theories developed by Smith (1999) namely; behaviourism, cognitivism, humanism, and constructivism. Though Utopian, it is not possible to only create one type of learning journey as there is not one type of informal learner.

Behaviourisms is based on the three principles; of learning manifested by change in behaviour, that environment shaping behaviour, and contiguity and reinforcement being crucial to the explanation of the learning process (Grippen & Peters 1983; Schlechter 1991; Watson 1997). Cognitivism advocate that involved thinking is required in addition to simulation and reinforcement (Moore & Fitz 1993), and built on the three principles of; attribution theory (Weiner 1974) in the explanation of the world to determine cause to events or behaviour, elaboration theory (Reigeluth 1983) grading learning from simple to complex, and theory of conditional learning (Gagne 1965) stipulating several different levels of learning requiring different types of instruction. Humanism concentrates on the freedom, value, dignity and potential of people (Combs 1981) with learning being student centred and the educator in the role as facilitator. Finally, constructivism believes learning to be an active process with learners in the role of information constructors creating their own representations of their reality (Bednar et al 1995).

What can be drawn from this is that motivation to learn is not a ‘one size fits all’ issue that can be resolved by a singular template to informal learning design. Though it won’t be possible in the time frame of my doctorate to explore all of the possibilities of what each of those learning designs could represent, it is possible to research as to the motivations of informal learners to ascertain what type of learning design could be potentially created in the future.


Bednar, A.K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, R.M., & Perry, J.D. (1995) Theory into practice: how do we think? In Instructional Technology: Past, Present, and Future (ed. G.J. Anglin), pp. 100-112. Libraries Unlimited, Inc., Englewood, CO.

Cherryholmes, C. (1966). Some current research on effectiveness of educational simulation games: A synthesis of findings. Simulation and Games 12(3): 307-332

Combs, A.W. (1981) Humanistic education: too tender for a tough world? The Phi Delta Kappan. 62, 446-449

de Freitas, S. & Routledge, H. (2013). Designing leadership and soft skills in educational games: The e-leadership and soft skills educational games design model (ELESS), British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 44 No 6 2013 951-968. British Educational Research Association.

Druckman, D. & Ebner, N. (2013). Games, Claims, and New Frames: Rethinking the Use of Simulation in Negotiation Education. Negotiation Journal January 2013

Emery, E.D., & Enger, T.P (1972) Computer gaming and learning in an introductory economics course. The Journal of Economic Education. 3, 77-85

Feng, C-Y., & Chen, M-P. (2013). The effects of goal specificity and scaffolding on programming performance and self regulation in game design. British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 45 No 2 2014 285-302. British Educational Research Association.

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The Story So Far…

I know I have been absence from my blog for a while but there were a few things I had to get sorted out. Firstly from the feedback from my PR01 and Residential School I have moved the focus of my research slightly, which has meant a rethink in my research strategy and a movement in my literature review.

Then I went on holiday. Not ideal timing I know, but it was booked 6 months before I was accepted onto the doctorate programme and I thought in holidaying in September that I would avoid any clashes with deadlines. How wrong could I be! Shortly after I was due to return from holiday I had the deadline of PR02. As it wasn’t possible to extend the deadline due to work travel commitments meaning I would have little extra time to work on my progress report I packed my bags for my holiday complete with a lever arch folder full of learning design papers, my laptop, iPad, notebook, highlighters and pens.

Studying on holiday isn’t easy. It’s not the distraction of the sun or the beach that you have to contend with, it’s the 40 plus degree heats that dry out your highlighters and gel pens as you mark and write, leading you to crank up the air conditioning in your room to arctic blast setting. And then to top it all off you have to fight for bandwidth with hundreds of other guests in the hotel lobby so you can log on to an Ethics seminar that you need to partake in, praying that the broadband in the desert will hold out long enough to post your forum comments, resulting in you keeping the hours of the hotel cleaning staff just so you can study before the sun rises and the sun worshipers flock to the lobby to upload their photos from the night before to Facebook.

To top off this study challenge extravaganza I fell prey to the Tunisian tummy bug after being served tap water in a mineral water bottle on the night of day seven leading me to spend the rest of my holiday in solitary confinement. The bug stayed with me long after flying home and after submitting PR02.

So, where does this leave me? To be honest it left me in a frustrating place, lacking in time and energy. But it was at this precise moment in time that my supervisors picked me up, dusted me down, and helped talk me through the planning of the next stages of my research.

The biggest difficulty of my research is that the field I wish to research is limited in the way of literature which means I have to read around the field into a number of other fields to see if I can reframe theory into mine. No easy feat. This leads me on to my second biggest difficulty, I’m old school. I’m a printy paper off, highlight, reflect, and write notes down with ink and paper kinda girl. This will not work for the volume of papers I will have to scan, shortlist, and read. Ironic as I’m known to always be carrying and making notes in my tablet for work, and my phone is surgically attached to my hand at all times.

This therefore requires a cunning, yet simple plan. And here it is, my blog becomes the place for my mini-literature reviews. I keep all my notes here with the aim to write a mini-literature review weekly. No more written hand notes like the ones above. And as I have self imposed my weekly deadline, no more reading papers to discard. The scanning of the abstract, findings and conclusion will be my ruthless filtering system.

Oh, and it starts today. Next blog posting coming up shortly. I feel like the energiser bunny.

For now, I’m still…

Doctor in Waiting

Spare, Spare Time

As my followers on Twitter know I fill most of my daily life being the Senior Producer: Social & Syndication for The Open University and that my doctorate I’m undertaking on a three year programme (which is what this blog is about) in my spare time.  

Well what about my spare, spare time? 

Normally, completely sane people choose to have a hobby or an interest, or just instead stare out of the window. Not me, I’ve never been the sit still, thumb twiddling type – as those that know me can contest, I make for a rubbish patient. 

So when an opportunity came up to work for my Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) as her Doctorate Research Assistant for the ICDE Research and Innovation Taskforce Project I jumped at the chance (and given that I’m 5’10 and wear 4″ heels, that’s pretty high). 

The focus of the R&I Taskforce is to:

  • Initiate a meta-study on the state of research and innovation in open, distance, flexible, and online education, including e-learning
  • Identify the grand challenges of research in open, distance, flexible and online education, including e-learning
  • Encourage cooperation amongst ICDE members on research and innovation (R&I), and
  • Advice the ICDE Executive Committee on R&I issues 

And also it means I will be working with the powerhouse of knowledge that is Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology in IET on campus (he has a penchant for biscuits, of which the producing of may be in my favour…). 

Meanwhile whilst all this was kicking off and I was settling into the my new spare, spare time role I had an email from the Director of International Development and Teacher Education in FELS (Faculty of Education and Language Studies) at the OU who is leading on another ICDE project on student success making enquiries about whether I was able to support him on the development of his survey and evaluation for his project. This is now my new spare, spare, spare time activity and I couldn’t be happier as both relate to my doctorate and also my research will hopefully be able to aid the projects. 

So…as I have successfully achieved filling all my spare time and saved myself from RSI from repeated thumb twiddling, I’ve hired a gardener. To be honest my plants are probably grateful. 

For now, I’m still…

Doctor in Waiting

Learning about Learning Design

As my doctorate is on the learning design of a journey, I have started my research with understanding how the learning design of courses is conducted at The Open University, to see how I could apply this methodology to a journey and what elements I would need to tweak or introduce to a journey-specific learning design. 

The concept of learning design was introduced within the OU in January 2013 with it becoming a required elements to the stage-gate course production process in March 2014. Even though the learning design process was adopted for formal for-fee content we have applied this process to the BOC (Badged Open Course) for-free initiative which I project manage. 

The use of learning design in informal content I feel is just as important as with for-fee or formal content as the learners need a cohesively designed course to feel that they are able to achieve the learning outcomes of the course and then if they decide to progress from learners to formal students then the pathways, layout, and design should feel familiar to them as they study our for-fee content. 

My theory (and this is one of the elements that I am exploring in my research) is that for a learning journey to be effective not only should the components within have learning design applied, but also the narrative that stitches all the component parts together. It can’t be expected that learners will know exactly what to do next after they have completed one part of the journey has this leads to confusion, loss in confidence and motivation, and eventually an increase in drop off rates. 

Anyway, enough of that for now (as no doubt you will be subjected to many theoretical ramblings as my research increases in this area over the forthcoming three years) and back to the learning design at the OU.

IET (Institute of Educational Technology) at the OU has a team of learning design specialists that work with course teams to identify the learning design of their courses, demonstrate the benefits of a good learning design, develop case studies for use, and help to identify the tools and resources that course teams require in the development of their courses. 

I started out developing my understanding of learning design at the OU by partaking in the learning design workshops for the BOCs (more about those in a future post soon) and from there I attended curriculum learning design training and now I am undertaking IET’s LD101: Introduction to Learning Design course, which is the first of a four part series of learning design courses by IET. 

I am hoping that this practical application, observation, reflection, study of their courses, and the development of my reading and research for my literature review will aid me to deepen my understanding of learning design in preparation for my application of the methodology. 

Right, less blogging, more studying of LD101 

For now, I’m still…

Doctor in Waiting