Motivation of the E-Learner: Theories, Practices, and Perceptions

Motivation of the E-Learner: Theories, Practices, and Perceptions

Lex McDonald (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) and Allie McDonald (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1963-0.ch013


The study of motivation in E-learning is an emerging field but there is a paucity of data about what learners and facilitators believe are the important factors involving and sustaining the interest of the learner. It is emphasised that more prominence needs to be given to the key players’ perspectives in balancing what is known about E-learning motivation. In this literature review, consideration is given to how E-learning evolved and impacted upon learners. Theoretical approaches to understanding learning and motivation are discussed and the importance of instructional design as a motivating factor identified. Research concerning the motivational matrix of the E-learner, facilitator, and educational environment is then detailed to provide a context for understanding E-learner motivation. Following this, phenomenologically-oriented research related to learner and facilitator perspectives on what motivates the E-learner is discussed and links to the social cognitive theory are acknowledged. Implications and an exploratory model of E-learners’ motivation are detailed followed by recommendations for future research.
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With the rapid growth of the World Wide Web and technology over the past 20 years, there have been immense changes in learning, communication and accessing of information (Bonk, 2002). Moreover, Keller and Suzuki (2004) suggest technology offers many innovative features to make instruction more appealing and hence the issue of motivation in E-learning has become a central focus. However, although there has been considerable research concerning the benefits and limitations of E-learning (e.g., Kruse, 2004) and instructional design (ID), relatively little has been written about why the motivational issues of those involved in these programs are an important consideration (Kim, 2009). As Cocea and Weibelzahl (2006) note, although ID is important for motivation, knowledge about the processes of learner motivation can help with tailoring the content and interventions. Therefore, it is the purpose of this review to examine E-learner motivational issues and then, in more specific terms, identify if the learners’ and facilitators’ perspectives about the processes that engage the learner are consistent with this literature.

E-learning is a relatively new term and is associated with notions of computer-based learning, but it is much wider than this. Kaplan-Leiserson (2003) defines it as “a wide set of applications and processes, such as Web-based learning, computer-based learning, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration.” (para 85). E-learning enables education to reach a diverse and geographically dispersed student base in a cost-efficient manner and it can be on demand, at any time, and at virtually any place (Clark & Mayer, 2011). It is a mode of learning adopted by many institutions but more research is needed to examine the circumstances of its operation (Herrington, Reeves & Oliver, 2010; Kim, 2009).

As indicated, this review is about motivation and the E-learner, and following a consideration of the background and contextual research the perspectives of the learners and facilitators are examined. Learner and communication variables were considered important by both learners and facilitators and task variables were also given prominence by the learners. Relating these findings to the social cognitive theory (SCT) provides an important context to understand the research. Various sources of information were accessed and specialist librarians and others having E-learning knowledge became valuable sources. All the data relating to perceptions were then considered in relation to the development of an exploratory integrated model of how motivational issues are perceived by the learners and facilitators.

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