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RUNNING HEAD: CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Conceptual Framework & Literature Review Themes


Koutropoulos, Apostolos
Athabasca University

Professor: Dr. George Siemens


EDDE 802 // Assignment 3
March 14, 2015
Conceptual Framework & Literature Review Themes

Conceptual Framework and Literature Review Themes


What motivates learners in Connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs)? This document is
a brief explanation of a conceptual plan, and a proposed review of the literature, to
be used to explore the over-arching question of what motivates learners in cMOOCs.
Specific aspects of this conceptual plan include an ontological perspective, an
epistemological stance, and a specific research paradigm. These bases will in turn
lead to potential research methods to be employed within this conceptual
framework to explore the topic of learner motivation in cMOOCs.
In building a conceptual framework three elements are important: an
ontological stance, an epistemological stance, and a research paradigm. From an
ontological perspective the term that best describes my position is subtle realism.
Hammersley coined this term when he wrote that there is a reality independent of
our own knowledge of it, yet we can only know reality from our own personal
perspective in it (1995, as referenced in Angen, 2000). Thus, while there may be
underlying forces at play, that can be generalizable, we are only able to interpret
this through the experiences of the learners, and then further interpret this
interpretation through the eyes of the researcher. This is something that Gee (2010)
writes about when discussing discourse analysis, but it can be equally applied to
other research methods. In thinking about the question of what motivates learners
in cMOOCs? while there may be a definitive list of motivational factors for learners,
we can only really explore these motivational factors through the lens of specific
learners in specific cMOOCs and through the research and interpretation of specific
researchers.
Given my ontological stance, the epistemological view that best describes a
way of approaching this topic is a Pluralist view (Koro-Ljungberg, Yendol-Hoppey,
Smith, and Hayes, 2009). One could potentially explore this question through a
positivist lens, by examining inputs and outputs of learners in the cMOOC, and by
utilizing survey research that can be quantified. However this is potentially only one
limited view of the phenomenon under investigation. This approach might yield an
explanation only of the surface view. By exploring learner motivation through a
pluralist paradigm, which includes a mix of interpretivist methodologies, the
researcher has the potential to dig beneath the surface of what the learner might
claim their motivations to be, and to uncover a much more nuanced explanation of
learner motivation.
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Conceptual Framework and Literature Review Themes


This conceptual framework is completed by exploring this question through a
mixed-methods research paradigm. While it would be possible to address this
question through a strictly qualitative approach, using ethnographic or case study
methods of instance, as a researcher additional, and potentially useful data, can be
collected and analyzed if a mixed-methods approach is employed. For instance
instead of strictly observing and interviewing students in a cMOOC, additional
points of data can be collected through the use of learner analytics, through social
network analysis, and through text analysis from various common sources of course
text, such as blogs, microblogs, and discussion forums. This would potentially allow
the researchers to uncover potential connections of threads that are invisible to the
participants themselves, even though they might exert some sort of influence over
their actions in the cMOOC.
The question of what motivates learners in cMOOCs is a complex one, and it
can be broken down further to sub-questions that examine the life-cycle of learner
participation in open courses. From the early stages we can examine how people
discover new cMOOCs that they might be interested in taking, and why they
ultimately end up sign-up for them. Once a cMOOC has begun, we can examine
why learners complete the MOOC, and interrogate what exactly completion means
to the participants. We can also examine the reasons why learners leave the
cMOOC before it is over. We can also have a further look into what significance, if
any, content, technology, course personalities, and the time-on-task have to do with
the entry, or exit, of people in cMOOCs. In this aspect it would be important to not
only follow the learner group that made it through to completion, but also seek out
individuals who stopped attending, or having a visible presence in the cMOOC.
Finally, there is a question of what literacies learners need in order to feel that they
are successful in making progress in a cMOOC. Three literacies that come to mind,
from personal experiences with cMOOCs, are networked literacy, technological
literacy, and critical literacy. Are there other literacies that are important? If yes,
how do these impact the motivation of learners in cMOOCs?
With this in mind it is possible to pick a few themes for a literature review.
While the research that is specific to MOOCs is only now starting to provide
researchers with more than one or two articles each year, there is a lot of existing
related literature in online and distance education that can provide starting points
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Conceptual Framework and Literature Review Themes


to explore the various sub-questions that our main question generates. For
instance, one major theme is general internal and external motivational factors in
learning as a whole. This could encompass face to face learning without the aid of
technology, technology enhanced face to face teaching and learning, and online
and distance education. By examining all three areas we can discover some
elements of motivation that are dependent on technology, and others that are not.
Another major theme are barriers for learners in learning online. This could
include technological barriers, lack of certain literacies, and more common everyday barriers such as lack of time, fatigue, and being over-extended. These barriers
can potentially serve as inhibiting factors in the motivation to participate in a
cMOOC. These barriers for learners assume that learners are in earnest interested in
participating and learning in a cMOOC, and arent just window shopping around the
various MOOCs that they can explore free of cost.
Other big themes in motivation could include learner self-efficacy in online
learning. And, related to this, social connections and their role in improving and
sustaining learner motivation. In traditional online courses, even in larger groups,
there is still some enforced social connection through the practices that we impose
on our learners. An example of this are practices in our discussion forums where a
common activity is for learners to post a minimum one original post per week, and
two responses to peers postings. This activity, in conjunction with the certification
aspect of traditional courses (i.e. learners must do certain things to earn a grade
and college credits), forces some level interaction among learners. In Open Courses
since there is usually no external push to connect with fellow participants in the
course, does this lack of social connection impact motivation to make progress in
the course? These are some of the big themes in motivation in learning that will
help set the stage for exploring learner motivation in cMOOCs.
In conclusion, the answer to the question of what motivates learners in
cMOOCs is not a question that can be answered strictly in a quantitative manner. It
is possible to start to explore the subject through a quantitative approach, but
results might be superficial. A more in-depth way to investigate this question would
employ either qualitative methodologies, or mixed method approaches. To provide
the researcher with a grounding into what has been studied before in terms of
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Conceptual Framework and Literature Review Themes


learner motivation, the literature review will include a review of the literature on
motivation, barriers to learning, and social connections in learning environments,
both online and face to face. A review of learner demographics in MOOCs
specifically will also provide the researchers with a general starting point of
identifying learners and their characteristics in MOOCs have been over the past five
years. This should provide researchers with a start in exploring this population of
learners and what motivates them.

Conceptual Framework and Literature Review Themes


References
Angen, M. J. (2000). Evaluating interpretive inquiry: Reviewing the validity debate
and opening the dialogue. Qualitative Health Research, 10(3), 378-395.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., and Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education (7th
Ed). London: Routledge.
Gee, J. P. (2010). An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method (3rd Ed).
New York: Routledge.
Koro-Ljungberg, M., Yendol-Hoppey, D., Smith, J., & Hayes, S. (2009).
(E)pistemological awareness, instantiation of methods, and uninformed
methodological ambiguity in qualitative research projects. Educational
Researcher, 38(9), 687-699.