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Motivation in a MOOC: understanding the learners in an open course

Recent studies have identified MOOC participants as generally “young, well educated, and employed”, mostly taking part in such courses to satisfy their curiosity, or to enhance their job prospects (Christensen et al, 2013). Whilst the profile of a typical MOOC participant is beginning to emerge, and learning analytics can provide some information about participants, little is known about what actually motivates learners to participate in a MOOC.

The study set out to understand the motivations of participants in a French language MOOC. The 5 week open online course, which attracted over 1000 participants, was designed for learners of French at level B1 of the CEFR, and aimed to develop language and employability skills for working in a francophone country.

The present research attempts to understand the expectancy beliefs and task values in the domain of online learning during the 5 weeks of the MOOC. In order to highlight the motivational changes of learners, we conducted a study based on the cognitive variables of Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000).

Two complementary studies based on the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI) were conducted with MOOC participants before they started the MOOC and at the end of it. The study consisted of 40 Likert-type questions on enjoyment/ interest (i.e. I will enjoy doing this MOOC very much), perceived competence (i.e. I think I will be able to perform successfully in the MOOC), effort (i.e. I will put a lot of effort in this MOOC), value/usefulness (i.e. I think that doing this MOOC will be useful for developing my skills), felt pressure and tension (i.e. I think I might feel pressured while doing the MOOC) and relatedness (i.e. I think I will feel like I can really trust the other participants).

A researcher cannot neglect the pedagogical context in which exchanges take place (Mangenot, 2007), and we were interested in determining factors that can directly influence the attitudes and practices of learning. Hence, drawing on McCarthy & Wright (2009) we considered students’ experience while using technology and their perceived effort attached to design and usability, which requires exploration in order to sustain motivation among MOOC participants.

The results of the study highlight significant factors that directly influence intrinsic motivation for learning in a MOOC environment, and we draw conclusions for MOOC designers based on our findings.


Tita Beaven    
Department of Languages
The Open University
United Kingdom

Tita Beaven is a Senior Lecturer in Spanish at the Open University, where she is also Head of the Department of Languages. Her research interests are in the area of open educational resources and practices.

Tatiana Codreanu    
Unit of research 5191
ICAR Research Laboratory

Tatiana Codreanu is a PhD candidate in applied linguistics at the University Lumière-Lyon 2 and a member of the ICAR research lab. Her doctoral research under Dr. Develotte examines the users’ behavior in a computer-mediated communication context.

Alix Creuzé    
Innovation pédagogique
Institut francais d'Espagne

Alix Creuzé is a teacher of French and instructional designer, coordinator of Educational Innovation and Multimedia at the French Institute of Madrid and coordinator of the MOOC 'Travailler en français'


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