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Aurora Institute

New research on affective and motivational factors of learning in online mathematics courses

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Kathryn Kennedy

Issue(s): Issues in Practice

The role of motivation in student success in online courses is clear. Highly motivated students perform better than their lesser motivated peers. However, what online teachers and administrators need to know is how to improve student motivation and ultimately, student performance.

A paper by Kim, Park, and Cozart on Affective and motivational factors of learning in online mathematics courses provides insight on how to improve motivation. The full paper appears in the January 2014 issue of the British Journal of Educational Technology and is available at the link below:;jsessionid=316235A2B8A514A0132096DDCDB36834.f04t01

This blog will briefly summarize the study but focus more on the implications for practice.

The research investigated what factors relate to student achievement in virtual high school math courses, why some students succeed in these courses, and suggest what should be done to help more succeed. A self-report survey was completed by 72 students on motivation, math achievement emotions, and cognitive processes. A three-step hierarchical multivariate regression was used to analyze the data. It was found that motivation accounted for 13% of the variance in achievement with self-efficacy also showing as a significant contributor.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was that anger was the strongest individual predictor of student achievement. This highlights how motivation and student emotions cannot be fully separated. Online school administrators must pay attention to the emotions of students and when possible, provide interventions.

This is not to be isolated to a counseling center of a school. Instead, within the very academic courses themselves, teachers and course designers must consider how the online learning experience can be improved for students who enter the course with negative emotions. The virtual classroom is a great fit for many students, but there are others who did not necessarily choose to be there. Anger in a student can lead to withdrawal. So when a teacher notices a student who is withdrawn and failing to show motivation, that may just be the surface of a deeper issue. Thankfully, there are simple strategies that students can use to combat potentially harmful emotions. By no means are we advocating that expensive personal counseling sessions be setup for every student. Instead, simple virtual agents can lead students to better understand their own emotions and provide research-based strategies to better handle their emotions. More traditional methods of teaching all students a variety of emotional regulation strategies would also work, just in a less targeted way. Students should be taught how to handle their emotions while participating in an online class. Additionally, increasing the interactions students have with other members of the class, including teachers, should help students manage their emotions more effectively, increase motivation, and improve the cognitive processes employed. Finally, as all professionals in online learning seek to create more personalized learning experiences, this study provides one more reason to strive for that goal. More adaptive, personalized learning integration in online courses would help minimize students experiencing anger emotions during math courses.