Yumiko Murai | Communication, Media and Learning Technologies Design | Mathematics Science and Technology

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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Communication, Media & Learning Technologies Design

In the Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology

Intrinsic Motivation and Sense of Belonging in Online Learning Environment

Yumiko Murai, Master of Education in Communication and Education

This study explored how people develop intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging in online learning environments. Online learning has increasingly become an important part of educational practices in modern society. However, the dropout rate and active participation throughout the course have been an insistent challenge with online instruction (Levy, 2007; Park & Choi, 2009; A Rovai, 2003; Willging & Johnson, 2004). This study examined the motivational development of online learners in relation to self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Based on solid empirical evidence, the SDT suggests that social environments that fulfill basic psychological needs (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness) encourage development of intrinsic motivation (La Guardia, Ryan, Couchman, & Deci, 2000). An important aspect of developing intrinsic motivation in online environments is sense of belonging.

Sense of belonging refers to "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together.” (McMillan & Chavis, 1986, p. 9). Although sense of belonging is an important factor in online learning experiences, little is known about learners’ motivation and the factors that contribute to its development in online learning (Chen & Jang, 2010; Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003). This study attempted to identify key features in online learning environments that may potentially help students maintain their motivation and continue participating in the online courses. The participants of the study were graduate students in two wholly online courses (Figure 1) in a private university in New York City. Comparing the students in different course structure (includes independent or group activities) and with different online tools (visual or text-based tools), this study explored two research questions: how does class structure influence intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging? and how does online tool influence intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging?. The study administered online surveys throughout the course to see how students’ intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging evolved over time. The result indicated that intrinsic motivation and sense of belonging exist somewhat in a similar mechanism as physical world in online learning environment (Chen & Jang, 2010; Hartnett et al., 2011; Roca & Gagné, 2008; Shroff et al., 2008; Xie et al., 2006), and class structure and online tools influence the way students participate in the online courses (Abfalter, Zaglia, and Mueller, 2012; Blanchard, 2008; Rovai & Jordan, 2004; Rovai, 2002). In addition, a number of useful implications found from the study were described in this thesis.

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