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How to motivate online learners in a post-pandemic landscape: Learnovate’s Innovation Services Lead Peter Gillis is doing a deep dive on creating a framework to keep remote and hybrid learners motivated over a sustained period.
In the rush to move learning online following the outbreak of Covid-19, Peter Gillis was observing how little thought was being given to how this transition might affect learners in the long term. And now, while there is a growing acknowledgment that the future of learning includes online, the issue of sustaining the motivation of those in remote and hybrid settings has emerged as one of the biggest challenges facing third-level institutions.
Peter has spent much of his academic life investigating the psychology of learning. His undergraduate degree thesis examined the capacity of young children to process multimedia messages before his Master’s research turned to understanding how the mode of delivery impacts motivation. Now a PhD candidate and researcher at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Peter is leading Remotivate, a Learnovate project aimed at developing a framework for keeping remote and hybrid learners motivated over a sustained period.
Drawing on research from more than 100 academic papers, Peter found that a “tapestry of different elements” can negatively impact student motivation. He says: “There are four tiers to this. The top tier is obviously the learner’s own readiness to engage with online learning. But below that you have the learner’s own environment and how it’s structured to support blended learning – is there a private room in the home in which to study? Do they have access to the technology needed to study remotely? “Beneath that is the content – how the activities with which the learner must engage are designed and developed with online motivation in mind. And then finally, the instructor – do they believe in the technology and the methodology? Is the organisation fully bought in?”
The draft framework that Peter’s project is working on is similar to one developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), a non-profit organisation based in the United States that promotes the integration of technology in teaching and learning. “Like ISTE, our work is supported by psychological and motivational theory, in particular self- determination theory which focuses on our three most basic psychological needs. They are: autonomy, the freedom to undertake a task; competence, the need to feel capable; and relatedness, a sense of belonging.=
“Ultimately, the Remotivate framework will help learners and institutions evaluate where they’re at and offer guidance on how to get where they want to go – so there’s a support mechanism built in.” Remotivate is further boosted by input from Learnovate’s Patron Members, including Hibernia College, LearnUpon, Mastercard, SOLAS and Chartered Accountants Ireland. Nigel Paine, a global thought leader in this area and a former Chief Learning Officer at the BBC, is also a leading contributor to the project.
Peter believes their support is a sign of a developing awareness within the industry of a problem with sustained motivation in online learning. “Each of them recognise that there’s an issue in terms of motivation and want to understand how we might scaffold and sustain learner motivation to engage with hybrid and remote learning over time. Remotivate is about the long run – the length of the module, not just the class. This is really needed. It’s never been done at this level.”
Much like the ISTE version, Peter envisages the commercial potential of the Remotivate framework as being based on implementation and evaluation. “ISTE tends to provide a good bit of the framework for free but then third-level institutions will engage ISTE to evaluate their situation in relation to the framework or implement it in a more complete way,” he adds.
Remotivate is very much informed by Peter’s doctoral research, which seeks to reduce drop- out rates among first-year undergraduate students. “The drop-out rate among first-year students is a real problem. The fallout has three different strands,” he says, citing a recent study from University College Dublin (UCD) which found that 29% of students report academic motivation concerns in the first semester. “First, there are serious financial implications for the student who withdraws as well as negative impacts on self-worth and self-esteem. It also impacts the college financially all through the four years of the degree because that student’s place can’t be filled in the second year. And it also affects the economy as a lower percentage of qualified talent is coming through the system at a time when industry is screaming for talent.” It is hoped that Remotivate’s framework will help reduce this dropout rate by creating a learning environment that will keep learners more engaged – ultimately leading to better outcomes for students, institutions and society in general.
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