Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, students, teachers and leaders have increasingly leveraged Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and a host of other software to check in with one another, give and receive feedback and maintain some semblance of normalcy in a markedly abnormal situation.
Fortunately, now that schools have returned to face-to-face learning, that normalcy is starting to return. However, many educators still experience issues when it comes to keeping their students engaged in the classroom.
Just as in face-to-face interactions and physical classrooms, student motivation and engagement are crucial. New Australian research shared by MCERA considers the implications of attitude to online learning for student motivation and engagement.
In a recent study from Deakin University, 574 undergraduate business students gave their views about online learning.
Published by Springer in Higher Education, Students’ motivation and engagement in higher education: the importance of attitude to online learning, by Dr. Justine Ferrer, Dr. Allison Ringer, Dr. Kerrie Saville, Dr. Melissa A Parris and researcher Kia Kashi, unravels the connection between attitudes toward on-line learning and consequent student motivation and engagement.
Dr. Ferrer explains, “The emergence of online environments has changed the landscape of educational learning. This study selected a particular tertiary institution because of its strong focus on, and use of, technology to facilitate learning. Although this approach is not unique in Australia - the institution had engaged with technology to deliver on-campus and online learning for a prolonged period.”
Students were engaged via an e-mail survey to assess their attitudes to online learning and its impact on their motivation and educational engagement. The median age of the students was between 20 - 25 years of age. 89.9% of the respondents were domestic students and 10.1% were international students.
According to Dr. Ringer, “The study highlighted that design of online learning environments can play a role in enhancing learning experiences. The results have implications for how students can be engaged online, and the need for educators to design online learning environments that support the learning experience for all students.”
Learning modes in the study were differentiated between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is understood as, individuals who have an inherent curiosity for new knowledge and ideas, while extrinsic is understood as, engaging with learning activities as a ‘means to an end’ rather than for the sake of gaining new knowledge.
A positive attitude towards online learning was found to partially mediate the relationships of both intrinsic motivation to know and extrinsic motivation with each of the engagement constructs.
Negative attitudes to online learning were shown to further decrease the likelihood of student engagement. As Dr Saville explains, “It may be that these students view online learning as yet another ‘issue’ they need to deal with. The higher average age of the online cohort, and the related likelihood of increased family and work commitments, may contribute to negative attitudes towards online learning—and the ‘added burden’ this imposes—despite choosing this mode of study over on-campus.”
According to Dr. Parris several implications arise from this study. "First, there is a need for educators to give greater attention to increasing positive attitudes - Educators’ words and actions about and within online learning environments play a key role in ‘normalising’ the online mode of delivery."
“One example would be educator skills and comfort in the use of online technology and showing a comfort level with less-than-perfect technological skills - for example the humorous embracing of ‘Zoom fails’."
“Another example, within the context of blended delivery, would be how educators positively reinforce the interconnectedness of the different delivery formats rather than (consciously or unconsciously) presenting the online environment as a poor second to on-campus delivery.”
“It is widely acknowledged that when students are actively engaged in the learning process, and get pleasure and instrumental value from what they are doing, they have a propensity to achieve better learning outcomes.”
Past research shows student disengagement is commonly associated with poor learning outcomes, and lower university retention and completion rates. In recent years, the increased use of information and communication technology (ICT) in higher education for online education delivery has resulted in diverse learning environments and/or contexts for students.
According to the researchers, whilst this study presented mixed results, "It identified the significant role of student attitude to online learning in a number of motivation-engagement pathways. Both individual- and institutional-level contributions are required to cultivate positive experiences for students within online learning environments and usage of online learning tools in order to improve their attitudes to online learning."
The original version of this article was published in MCERA.