Improving Online Motivation Through Emails

Huett, J. B., Kalinowski, K. E., Moller, L., & Huett, K. C. (2008). Improving the motivation and retention of online students through the use of ARCS-based e-mails. The American Journal of Distance Education, 22, 159-176.

Huett et al., created a study to examine how periodic mass email messages could improve the motivation and retention of students enrolled in an online course. They felt there are significant challenges when it comes to retaining online learners and were searching for a simpler approach to motivating those learners in a cost-effective way, fit within the time constraints of the class or for the teacher, and could be seamlessly integrated into the teaching and learning process (p. 160). The authors selected the ARCS model as the overall framework for creating the motivational mass emails because the approach attempts to synthesis behavioral, cognitive, and affective learning theories and demonstrates that learner motivation can be influenced through external conditions (Huett et al., 2008). Through their research, studies have cited that motivation can account for 16% to 38% of the variations in overall student achievement (Means et al., 1997), thus the importance of designing appealing instruction to manipulate learner motivation for online learning courses.

According to the authors, there has been little research in using the ARCS model for motivational messaging in online learning. I do believe there is value in studying this phenomena as a potential mass intervention to improve learner motivation and performance in an online learning environment. The ARCS model is quite comprehensive and broken down into two parts. The first part of the model is a set of categories (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction) that represent the components of motivation and the second part of the model is a systematic design process that assists in creating motivational enhancements that are appropriate for a given set of learners. Overall, the study revealed that there was a statistical difference in means between students receiving the treatment and those who did not receive the treatment. In fact, Huett et al., highlighted that there was a statistical difference in every measure of motivation except relevance in the study and explained why given the nature of the treatment that their results made sense (p. 171). Additionally, the study yielded greater student retention as well as a lower student failure rate for the treatment group. Any positive findings related to new motivation and retention strategies should warrant further studies.

In my district, we do offer online learning courses for students who need credit recovery, a class that is not offered for a specific hour or trimester and/or for a class generally not offered. The program is administered through our Alternative High School and students who participate must take their online classes within the school district in designated locations during the school year. Although the online programming is somewhat manageable now, as the number of students requesting online classes continues to grow, I feel it is important to develop a set of strategies and interventions to support a multitude of learners and realize that not all communication exchanges can be personalized each and every time. This study gives pause to current and future practice and potentially represents another tool to use to complement our current efforts.

Means, T., Jonassen, D., & Delaney, H.D. (1997). Enhancing relevance: Embedded ARCS strategies vs. purpose. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45, 5-17.