Motivating Online Learners – the MUSIC Model


This blog was inspired by one of our Master eLearning Course (MEC) students, Catharina.  She wrote a fantastic blog post (in our online learning community) reflecting on her own actions and practice when trying to motivate students completing online courses. Catharina questioned how do we motivate adult learners where the course isn’t compulsory and there is no pass or fail?’

This really got me thinking and made me reflect on my own experiences. How many MOOCs have I signed up for and never finished! We’ve all been there at some stage…but why is that? We are all motivated to improve our practice and develop professionally yet a lot of times, these online courses are put on the ‘long finger’. For me finding the solution to motivating online learners is like the ‘holy grail’ of the eLearning world. Because of this, I’m always interested in new theories and research in this area and I stumbled across the MUSIC model by Brett Jones who is a Professor in the Educational Psychology program within the School of Education at Virginia Tech.  Jones developed the MUSIC model of student motivation, which identifies five main factors that contribute to student motivation: empowerment, usefulness, success, interest, and caring.

“The primary purpose of the model is to provide instructors with a guide that they can use to make intentional decisions about the design of their courses”

eMpowerment: this is all about giving your student choice  and the ability to make decisions about some aspects of their learning. It also allows students the opportunity to choose their activities while still staying within the framework and goals of the course. This reminds me a little of certain gamification techniques that can be applied to course settings.

Usefulness: how useful and relevant is it to the individual? Jones reinforces the importance of the learner identifying how the course will help them work smarter or can be applied to what they do in their everyday job roles. To me this is really the old ‘WIIFM’ type of thinking.

Success: We all want to succeed and do well. The same applies to anyone undertaking an online course. The learner wants to be reassured that they can pass the course with a reasonable amount of effort.  Have you anticipated what problems/challenges the learners may face and is there enough help and support to get them through these challenges.

Interest: Are your students interested in the content and instructional activities? Jones describes two types of interest that are linked to student motivation: situational interest and individual interest.

Situational interest refers to an aspect of a course that is enjoyable or fun. ………….Situational interest can be enhanced by novelty and emotions

Situational interest is often short lived, but it can lead to longer-term individual interest, which refers to how the content relates to the individual. For example, a student taking a course within his or her major might have a strong individual interest in the content based on how the content related to who they are and what they aspire to. A mechanical engineering major may have a strong individual interest in a mechanical engineering course because she sees herself as a mechanical engineer and thinks, “I’m interested in it because it’s who I am.”

(Kelly 2012)

Caring: Students or learners need to believe that others in the learning environment care about their learning and them as a person. I find this last one quite interesting and wonder if this is the reason many people fail to complete MOOCs or other similar open learning experiences.

Jones assumed that although caring is a big motivator for children, it would not play a large role in online higher education courses. He was wrong. In fact, in a study of 609 online learners, caring was the number one predictor of online instructor ratings. “It turns out that caring is very important even for adult learners,” Jones says.

(Kelly 2012)

I’ve blogged about this topic many times and I always manage to learn something new or reflect on my own practice a little more deeply. For me finding the solution to motivating online learners is like the ‘holy grail’ of the eLearning world. If you’re interested in learning more about this model, I’ve included a reference list below. However, if you are the ‘Indiana Jones’ of motivating online learners, I’d love to hear more about your experiences.

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