Motivation through collaboration with ownership, challenge and reflection – Revisiting Case Studies in Motivating the Learner (Part 5b)

I’m continuing my reference to a case study by John R Savery (1999) in ‘Inspiring Students: Case Studies in Motivating the Learner’ (see previous blog post in this series), as there were three aspects to engaging and motivating learners that I wanted to explore further. As part of a suggested approach to lead students to become self-motivated and less dependent upon the teacher role, Savery (drawing upon other authors) referred to learning communities, the way that learning together leads to increased engagement and effectiveness. Whilst not clear whether the case study referred exclusively to small learning groups or the larger cohort, learner ownership of solutions to problems, challenging thinking and opportunities for reflection were cited as ways to encourage motivation (p.40).

I’d like to take these three ideas and more broadly explore where online learning and platforms offer scope for developing learning experiences that engage and motivate students.

Learner ownership

Student-led learning, where students either direct the learning objectives to be met or shape the learning activity to meet specific learning objectives, can exploit online platforms. The online space may be configured by the instructor to support simply the administrative side of student-led learning (such as keeping track of objectives and outputs from face-to-face activities), or through activities that allow the learner to inform the direction of learning within their learning groups. For example, the use of a course blog to raise discussion points for the next seminar. Learner ownership comes from the flexibility to determine a learning activity, perhaps even deciding on the outputs or tools to be used. This does not remove the necessary role of the educator, either to provide the scaffold for learning (group forming, technical support, context for the activity) or ongoing facilitation.

Learner ownership also comes from the creation of resources and sharing of developed knowledge. I’ve recently created a number of videos that look at different ways for presenting ideas digitally, and an activity that allows students to develop their own resources perhaps for use for subsequent year groups gives freedom of expression whilst also evidencing learning. In this vein, drawing upon Savery’s suggestions for communities of learners, use of social networking platforms which by their nature are tied to the learner’s personal online space (more often than not) brings module content out of the academic, institutional spaces and into environments owned by the student. With learner groups connected online, discussions about the course content may be occurring (even without lecturer intervention), and thus developing the teacher independence Savery referred to. There are already examples where lecturers develop hashtags for their modules for use on Twitter (distance learning in particular), allowing sharing of resources and commenting for which the lecturer too can observe or participate. As recommended further reading, Meagle (2014) presented a conceptualisation of Twitter chats through a community of learning angle and discussed the way such platforms overlap the informal/formal learning spaces.

Challenging thinking

Side-stepping the community of practice and learning groups concept for a moment, the idea of challenging learners intellectually in order to motivate them requires an understanding of the students. The way they think about particular issues, their pre-existing knowledge base, and their own awareness of their understanding are all factors that need to be known in order to challenge a learner. There are some obvious replications of the face-to-face environment, such as online tutor-mediated discussion fora common in distance learning as an equivalent of seminar room reading and debate. Interactions with other perspectives can force a learner to rethink their own point of view. The digital environment also enables learners to encounter forms of content that convey new ideas in engaging or emotive ways, for example videos of real life experiences, structured video and explanation of practical demonstrations or virtual simulation activities that ground theoretical concepts within practical, realistic scenarios.

Online activities that utilise automated marking, for example quizzes (which should by no means be restricted to factual recall, but can also require application of knowledge to case studies), allow learners to gauge their own understanding and module tutors to also use that information to tailor subsequent learning activities. Through these measures, additional content or learning activities can be released or ‘adapted’ to individual students (or groups of students) depending on their level of understanding or performance. Whilst online platforms make this possible, particularly with automated analysis of quiz results, constructing individual study paths through an otherwise structured learning plan towards specific end learning objectives is not easy. The evidence with regards automated differentiation of learners is also not conclusive (see Griff and Matter, 2013 as one example), but the personalisation of adaptively tailoring learning recommendations may have some impact on student interest in the content (see Maier et al., 2005 for an example of personalised online learning for health professionals which coincidentally also refers to communities of practice).

Opportunities for reflection

Reflective learning is not in itself a definition of the learning process. Weedon and Cowan (2002) suggested there are five different types of reflective activity, each distinct in the learning outcome and intended learning experience: process analysis, self-evaluation, critical incident analysis, searching for a solution, and serendipitous reflection. Each of these similarly could be grounded within a particular learning design. For example each form of reflective learning may come through a learning activity that is focused on individual, private study or group discussion and collaborative learning. Learning technologies assist both approaches in providing a space to capture reflections in situ, at a time and place where the event and experience being reflected upon occurs.

Whilst this can mean actually recording the reflection on the go (for example a quick journal post or voice recording), it can also involve the capturing of artefacts from which reflective learning follows (for example use of a camera on a mobile phone to record a critical incident or documents that may be useful later). Mobile apps that tie to social networks or personal spaces support serendipitous reflection. In all cases there is opportunity for students to learn from each others reflections depending on the level of sharing, group dynamic and established norm for the reflective activity.

Summary and a case in point

This post has highlighted learning ownership, challenge and reflection as learning and teaching approaches to develop student engagement and motivation, drawing upon recommendations made by Savery (1999). Each of these is learning approaches is authentic to life beyond a programme of study, representative of the ongoing work and learning and can utilise learning technologies in 2016 to enable engaging and active learning experiences.

To show how these ideas have come together, demonstrating motivation through collaboration, I’m going to draw upon a Twitter chat that occurs within the professional domain amongst learning technologists. From the #LTHEchat on 16 November a question was posed to the participants that asked why they participated, what motivated them to join in at 8pm on a Wednesday night. Here were a few of the more thoughtful responses (lifted from the Storify of the chat):

“It’s a great way of sharing ideas and experience and helps me to reflect. Has good humour and illustrations too!” – @CatherineAReid

“I’m new to all this (HE & Twitter) so I’m interested to find out more from others. Plus everyone is so friendly” – @emmfletcher

“Chance to reflect in 140 char. connect with others, share ideas, taught me to use Twitter + tweetdeck more effectively” – @Isobel_Gowers

“Taking part in #LTHEChat motivates me to try new things and makes me feel part of a community I want to be part of and contribute to” – @debbaff

“Share experiences and hear others’ experiences. Meet practitioners. Sooooo much fun.” – @jamdsf123

“To get new ideas, to check my own are not completely off the wall, to see an other point of view” – @dave_thesmith

And my own thoughts…

“Also positive feeling that the #LTHEchat community are all in it together for the common good” – @mattcornock


Griff, E.R. and Matter, S.F. (2013). ‘Evaluation of an adaptive online learning system’, British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(1), pp.170-176. Available at

Maier, P., Armstrong, R., Hall, W. and Muan Hong, N. (2005). ‘JointZone: users’ views of an adaptive online learning resource for rheumatology’, Learning, Media & Technology, 30(3), pp.281-297. Available online at

Meagle, C. (2014). ‘Theorizing Twitter Chat’, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 2(2). Available online at

Savery, J. R. (1999). ‘Enhancing Motivation and Learning Through Collaboration and the Use of Problems’, in Fallows, S. and Ahmet, K. (eds.). Inspiring Students: Case Studies in Motivating the Learner. London: Kogan Page. pp. 33-41.

Weedon, E. and Cowan, J. (2002). ‘The Kolb Cycle, reflection and all that… what is new?’, Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice – 10 Years On, Proceedings of the 2002 10th International Symposium for Improving Student Learning. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

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