Effective strategies to motivate students in online discussion forums

This project was completed by Ms. K.M.G.B. Nishakumari as the final year project of her MSc in e-Learning degree programme which is conducted by the University of Edinburgh, UK through e-Learning. The project was about “exploring the effectiveness of different strategies to motivate students to actively participate in online discussion forums”.

This one year research project was based on 2 compulsory courses offered by the UCSC in the third semester for those students who want to follow the e-Learning stream for the Masters of Information Technology (MIT) degree programme. These courses were MIT 3090 “Foundations of e-Learning” (FeL) and MIT 3100 “Instructional Design for e-Learning” (IDL).

Since several e-Learning programs have been conducted by several institutions in Sri Lanka, it is necessary to investigate the motivational factors that affect students’ online experience in the local context. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, student motivation is required to participate in a learning process. Therefore, it is required to identify and use different motivational strategies in activities to promote motivation for student engagement in an online course.

FeL and IDL courses with 4 credits each, were offered parallel in the 3rd semester of the MIT degree program in 2008. The aim of the research was to explore the effectiveness of the new strategies that were introduced into both online courses. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to analyse the effectiveness of the new strategies applied in these courses. Student satisfaction and their perceived helpfulness of certain forum activities were considered as proxies for motivation. A comprehensive literature review was conducted to identify several motivational strategies that can be used to motivate the learners to actively participate in online discussions.

The course structure and the learning activities were mainly designed using the WisCom model where participants reflect on their own practice, share and learn from each other, and mentor each other as they move toward their learning goals. Several discussion forums were considered from both courses for this study. The courses were facilitated by a group of instructors.

The results show that the forum activities should be relevant and meaningful for their needs to motivate students to actively participate in online forum discussions. While emphasizing the importance of the facilitator’s role in discussions, inclusion of varied, challenging and multidimensional activities which promote interaction among students is also important to keep them engaged in discussions. Therefore, it can be seen from this study that certain strategies used in both courses were effective in motivating students to participate in online discussions while some strategies need to be modified to get the maximum effectiveness in using them in these online courses.

Ms. Nishakumari Presented a paper based on her project at the eAsia conference in December, 2009. Details about this paper and the presentation can be found at the online version of digital learning track of e-Asia 2009, http://www.e-learning.lk/vle.

Nishakumari, K.M.G.B. (2009). Effective strategies to motivate students in online discussion forums, paper presented at E-Asia conference, Colombo, 2-4 December.