Examining motivation in online distance learning environments: Complex, multifaceted, and situation-dependent

Maggie Hartnett, Alison St. George, John Dron

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Existing research into motivation in online environments has tended to use one of two approaches. The first adopts a trait-like model that views motivation as a relatively stable, personal characteristic of the learner. Research from this perspective has contributed to the notion that online learners are, on the whole, intrinsically motivated. The alternative view concentrates on the design of online learning environments to encourage optimal learner motivation. Neither approach acknowledges a contemporary view of motivation that emphasises the situated, mutually constitutive relationship of the learner and the learning environment. Using self-determination theory (SDT) as a framework, this paper explores the motivation to learn of preservice teachers in two online distance-learning contexts. In this study, learners were found to be not primarily intrinsically motivated. Instead, student motivation was found to be complex, multifaceted, and sensitive to situational conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-38
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Distance education
  • E-learning
  • Extrinsic
  • Intrinsic
  • Motivation
  • Online learning
  • Self-determination theory


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