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Editorís Note: Distance learning is much more than a delivery system. Under optimum conditions, it is an environment designed to engage the student in a learning dialog; empower the student to manage his or her own learning; and share access to rich learning resources and opportunities for interaction. Motivational strategies are key to successful participation in distance learning programs.

 

The Effect of Distance Learning
on EFL Learners' Motivational Strategies

Zahra Jokar, Seyyed Mohammad Ali Soozandehfar
Iran

Abstract

This investigation aims at evaluating the motivational strategies of EFL learners in the context of distance learning. For this purpose, fifty adult Iranian distance learners answered the MSLQ questionnaire, the results of which indicated that the distance learning has some crucial effects on EFL learners. Moreover, some implications related to distance learners and this newly-arrived system of education are presented.

Introduction

A distance education system is identified as the answer to the problems of people who donít have access to the traditional educational system and are too busy to participate in traditional classrooms. Adult students turn to online instruction because of convenience, upgrading job skills, and the preference for independent modes of learning (Giles, 1999). Moreover, technological development has influenced educational systems, particularly foreign language learning. These factors may lead adult learners to choose a distance learning system as an effective mode of learning for their specific situation. Such systems may provide a situation (separation of teacher and students as well as students and their classmates) that will affect students' motivation, autonomy, and so on (White, 2003). Based on White (2003), this isolation and absence of face-to-face contacts will affect students' motivation. This paper focuses on issues involved in the distance learning context. Motivation and strategies used by students in distance learning will be evaluated.

Literature review

The traditional model of education provides face-to-face teaching and learning contexts. However, the distance context involves learners from different time zones and places, and it can be regarded as answers to a globalization issue.

There are different definitions of distance education. Sometimes the terms distance education and distance learning are synonymous. There are several definitions of distance education and distance learning:

Distance education is planned learning that normally occurs in a place separate from the teaching and as a result requires special techniques of course design, special instructional techniques, special methods of communication by electronic and other technology, as well as special organizational and administrative arrangements.
(Moore and Kearsley, 1992: 2)

Distance learning is an educational system in which learners can study in a flexible manner in their own time, at the pace of their choice and without requiring face-to-face contact with a teacher. (Shelley 2000:651)

Studies on motivation

Candlin and Byrnes (1995) found that absence of the peer support and social aspects of face-to-face classes will affect motivation levels of learners in distance educational systems.

White (1999a) conducted a longitudinal study of novice Japanese and Spanish learners studying by distance. She considered conditions that were important for success of distance learners. Nine conditions were identified: motivation, confidence in one's capacity to cope with distance learning, quality of course materials, amount of time studying, persistence, quality of interaction with tutor, amount of interaction with tutor, knowing how you learn best, and the optional face-to-face elements in the course. In ranking these conditions in the next phase of the study in terms of their importance for success, two affective factors-namely motivation and confidence- received the highest rankings.

White (1993) found that distance learners used affective strategies more than mainstream learners. White (1993) studied use of language learning strategies of foreign language learners of French and Japanese. She found that the support from the teacher played a key role.

The following observations of Candlin and Byrnes (1995) still hold for research into distance language learning:

Ö very little research has been done on how distance learning teachers actually manage the learning, much less research, for example, than has been done into how classroom teachers manage the learning. What is it that distance learning teachers do and how do they do it? What characterizes teacher talk in distance learning? Such questions would provide the basis for focused and action-research based professional development of distance learning teachers (P. 17).

McLaughlin (2004) maintains that motivation is the most important factor of success and he believes that motivation must be developed in distance contexts. Susimeta (2004) studied motivation and self-regulatory skills in collaborative distance learning. The study found a relationship between intrinsic motivation and self-regulated strategies. However, extrinsic motivation seemed less supportive. Whipp and Chiarelli (2004) confirmed that some traditional self-regulated learning strategies were directly applicable to online environments. They suggested adopting and modifying some strategies in web-based environments.

Zhang, Li, Duan and Wu (2001) studied influence of self-efficacy of distance learning on learning skills. They concluded that intrinsic motivation and self-regulated learning skills were directly related to self-efficacy of distance learning. Miltiadou and Savenye (2005) investigated the effect of social cognitive constructs on motivation in online distance education. They confirmed that the effect of social cognitive constructs on motivation will lead to more success in online environment.

Objective of the Study

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to investigate the effect of distance learning on the Iranian EFL Learners' motivational strategies. One questionnaire offered questions that encouraged respondents to provide their beliefs regarding the influence of distance learning on motivational strategies.

Research Question

This study asked the following question:

       What are the patterns of motivational strategies used by distance learners?

Methods

Participants

Participants of this study were 50 adult EFL learners of the virtual University of Shiraz. All participants were native speakers of Persian.

Materials

The main instrument in this study was the MSLQ (The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire) (Pintrich, et al.1991), which is designed for measuring the frequency of motivational strategies in distance learners. The MSLQ was used in the present study to collect data on student's motivational strategies. MSLQ delves into distance learners' motivation, i.e. achievement goals, efficacy, and control beliefs, self-regulated learning, i.e., time management, effort management, help seeking, and self-regulated strategies. The MSLQ is an 81-item Likert type self-report instrument designed for measuring students' motivational beliefs and strategy use. Pintrich, et al. (1993) found strong positive coefficient alphas for most of the internal consistency estimates of reliability within different factors. Bagheri (2007) also found reliability of 0.87 through test-retest reliability index. This shows that the questionnaire was highly consistent.

Ng (2000) also studied motivation and learning processes of students in a distance context and discussed the use of MSLQ for distance learners.

There are essentially two sections presented in MSLQ: a) motivation and b) learning strategies. The motivation section consists of 31 items assessing learners' goal for a course, their beliefs about their ability to succeed in a course and their anxiety about course tasks.

The second part of the MSLQ is based on a general model of learning and information processing. It contains three general types of scales: a) cognitive strategies, b) meta-cognitive control, and c) resource management strategies.

The learning strategies section contains 50 items: 19 items pertaining to cognitive strategies, 12 items related to meta-cognitive strategies and 19 items concerning with resource management strategies.

Based on the purpose of this study just the first part, i.e. motivation strategies, of this questionnaire was used to measure learners' motivation strategies.  

Data collection procedures

The MSLQ data were collected from 55 distance learners. The questionnaire offered questions that encouraged respondents to provide their beliefs regarding the effect of distance learning on motivational strategies.

Data analysis procedures

After collection, the raw data from each respondent was entered into an SPSS program for the analysis. The average reported frequency of motivational strategies of distance learners across all students was calculated for each motivational strategies item.

Results

As evident in Table 1, Expectancy components that contain Control Beliefs and Self Efficacy showed the mean of 4.27 (SD=2.3). Affective components (Test Anxiety) showed a high mean of 4.28 (SD=0.34), and Value components, which contain Intrinsic Goals, Extrinsic Goals, and Task Value, showed the mean of 3.72 (SD=2.8). Table 1 shows the scales, dimension, subscales and the items of motivation strategies.

Table 1
Motivation strategies

Scales

Dimension

Sub-scales

Items

Motivation

Expectancy components

Control Beliefs

2,9,18,25

Self Efficacy

5,6,12,15,20,21,29,31

Value components

Intrinsic Goals

1,16,22,24

Extrinsic Goals

7,11,13,30

Task Value

4,10,17,23,26,27

Affective components

Test Anxiety

3,8,14,19,28

 

Table 2
Mean and Standard deviation of motivation strategies

Variable

Mean

SD

Exp

4.27

5.43

Val

3.72

2.8

Aff

4.28

0.43

Exp (Expectancy components),Val (Value components), Aff (Affective components)

Table 3
Preference of motivation strategies by students

4.9

1

I expect to do well in this class

21

Exp

4.8

2

If I try hard enough, then I will understand the course material

18

Exp

4.8

3

I'm confident I can learn the basic concepts taught in this course

12

Exp

4.8

4

I think I will be able to use what I learn in this course in other courses

4

val

4.8

5

I believe I will be able to use what I learn in this course in other courses

5

exp

4.8

6

It is important for me to learn the course material in this class

10

val

4.8

7

If I can, I want to get better grades in this class than most of the other students

13

val

4.7

8

I'm confident I can do an excellent job on the assignments and tests in this course

20

exp

4.5

9

If I don't understand the course material, it is because I didn't try hard enough

25

exp

4.5

10

Getting a good grade in this about items on other parts of thing for me right now

7

val

4.4

11

When I take a test I think about how poorly I am doing compared with other students

3

aff

4.2

12

Considering the difficulty of this course, the teacher, and my skills I think I will do well in this class

31

exp

4.1

13

In a class like this, I prefer course material that arouses my curiosity, even if it is difficult to learn

16

val

3.9

14

When I take tests I think of the consequences of failing

14

aff

3.8

15

I'm confident I can understand the most complex material presented by the instructor in this course

15

exp

3.7

16

I'm certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in the readings for this course

6

exp

3.

17

In a class like this, I prefer course material that really challenges me so I can learn new things

1

val

3.5

18

It is my own fault if I donít learn the material in this course

9

exp

3.5

19

The most important thing for me right now is improving my overall grade point average, so my main concern in this class is getting a good grad

11

val

3.5

20

I am very interested in the content area of this course

17

val

3.5

21

I have an uneasy, upset feeling when I take an exam

19

aff

3.4

22

The most satisfying thing for me in this course is trying to understand the content as thoroughly as possible

22

val

3.3

23

When I have the opportunity in this class, I choose course assignments that I can learn from even if they don't guarantee a good grade

24

val

3.3

24

If I study in appropriate ways, then I will be able to lean the material in this course

2

exp

3.3

25

Understanding the subject matter of this course is very important to me

27

val

3.2

26

When I take a test I think about items on other parts of the test I can't answer

8

aff

2.9

27

I want to do well in this class because it is important to show my ability to my family, friends, employer, or others

30

val

2.8

28

I think the course material in this class is useful for me to learn

23

val

2.4

29

I feel my heart beating fast when I take an exam

28

aff

2.5

30

I like the subject matter of this course

26

val

2.5

31

I'm certain I can master the skills being taught in this class

29

exp

Exp (Expectancy components),Val (Value components), Aff (Affective components)

Discussion

Generally speaking, the participants used lots of Expectancy and Value strategies. Concerning self-efficacy strategies, since they were supposed to work on their own through the program, they tried to be more responsible for their own learning. Considering the difficulty of this course, lack of teacher and face-to-face discussion, they gained enough confidence and self-belief of understanding the most difficult material presented in this course.  

Regarding intrinsic goals, arousing students' curiosity to learn even the most difficult materials has the highest rank among intrinsic goals and this puts more responsibility on the shoulders of students to try more to be ready to learn new things and understand the content as thoroughly as possible. Among extrinsic goals, getting a good grade or being successful in the final complicated evaluation leads to better material learning and understanding.  

In regard with task value, the courses have high value because the learners can use them for other courses and their own purposes, so it is important for them to learn them even if they are difficult. This task value is related to their intrinsic goals that increase their motivation for learning.

Regarding test anxiety, most learners are worried about their poor performance compared with their classmates when they take a test because they donít have any face-to-face contact or communication with other students and this separation or loneliness leads to students' anxiety regarding their poor performance.

Conclusion

According to the results of the questionnaire phase of this study, affective components showed the highest frequency. Lack of accessibility to enough materials, separation of teachers and students as well as students' loneliness will affect students test anxiety because they donít have a good belief about their performance and they are worried about their poor performance compared with their classmates. White (1993) found that distance learners used a wider range of affective strategies than classroom learners.

McLaughlin (2004) maintains that it is necessary to increase students' motivation to help them to be more successful in the distance context. It is important to use some of the same techniques to make distance students more motivated. It is required to do a lot more of that kind of research and it could feed into teacher training and material developments in very productive ways. Some studies have being done, but it seems that this area needs more investigation and research.

Pedagogical implications

Regarding the factors which are of high importance in this study, teachers should pay more attention to learners' motivation. Measuring learners' motivation at the beginning of each semester in the distance context, teachers will make students more interested in their learning and students would be imbued with more motivation for learning. Because lack of teacher and group work affect students' motivation, some students may lose their motivation, some of them may have problems in planning and monitoring their own learning process, thus it is very important to adjust students to the distance universities system. One solution can be to administer a questionnaire at the start of the term to be informed of the students' needs, interests and their objectives about the course and to use them in the last syllabus.

When teachers try to increase students' motivation, learners will have a different view of the distance context and they will adjust their expectations based on their experience of the new learning context.

 

Reference

Moore, M.G., & Kearsly, G. (1996). Distance education: a system view.

McLoughlin, C. & Luca, J. (2004). An investigation of the motivational aspects of peer and self-assessment tasks to enhance teamwork outcomes.

Miltiadou, M. & Savenye, W. (2005). Applying social cognitive constructs of motivation to enhance student success in online distance education.  Miltiadou, M. & Savenye

Moore, M.G. (1999). Recent contribution to the theory of distance education. Open learning, 1(2), 10-15.

Pintrich, P.R., & Smith, D.A.F., & Garcia, T., & McKeachie, W.J. (1991). A manual for the use of the motivated strategies for learning questionnaire (MLSQ). University of Michigan.

Shelley,S(2000). Pioneering the Web Enhanced Learning between Taiwan and China (WELTaC) initiative in higher education: potential and issues. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(2), 193Ė203.

Susimeta, M.K. (2004). Motivation and self-regulatory skills in collaborative distance learning. Paper presented at American Educational Research Association 2004 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.

Whipp, J.L., & Chiarelli, S. (2004). Self-regulation in a web-based instruction on the academic achievement of students studying Economics. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Akron, USA.

White, C.J. (1999a). Expectations and emergent beliefs of self-instructed language learners. In metacognitive knowledge and beliefs in language learning system special issue (27)443-457.

White, C.J. (1993). Metacognitive, cognitive, social and affective strategy use in foreign language learning: Unpolished PhD thesis, Massey University, New Zealand. 

Zhang, j., & Li, F., Duan, C. & Wu, G. (2001). Research on self-efficacy of distance learning and its influence to learners' attainments.

 

About the Author

Zahra Jokar  is from the Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran.

 

Seyyed Mohammad Ali Soozandehfar is a TEFL teacher and researcher at the Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran.

Email: soozandehfar@yahoo.com
 

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