Moving Beyond The Model: Implementing a motivational framework to exceed best practices for online learning

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

As online educators, do we practice what we preach? This pilot study outlines the redevelopment of an online architecture/design philosophy course using a motivational framework to exceed best practices. The intent is to help online learners create deeper abstract meaning and knowledge transfer while providing educators with a realistic approach.


Lauren Pillote-Wielenga, MA, NCIDQ, IDEC Founder & Principal of Lauren Pillote Consulting, Ms. Pillote-Wielenga has close to 20 years of academic experience in higher education in both faculty and administrative roles, as well 30 years as a profession designer. Her academic experience extends to both traditional and online methods of instruction. Since 2009, she has created and consulted on the development of fully online accredited degree programs including curriculum development and delivery strategy, course development and assessment, and online teaching for colleges in both the U.S. and Canada. Her research interests include design pedagogy for creativity, curriculum development, and adult learning methodology. She has presented nationally and internationally with publications and presentations that include: Anatomy of an Online BFA Degree: Creating a Paradigm Shift for Online Art and Design Education (2011); Comparative Assessment for Online BFA Degrees (2011); Preliminary Teaching Manual for Sustainable Design Education (2006); Educating the Educators: Approaches for Teaching Sustainability (2006). She received the IDEC Regional Chairs Award in 2005 as co-author of Creating a Sustainable Design Area of Emphasis in a FIDER Accredited Program of Interior Design.

Additional Authors

Maha Salman, PhD, M.Sc., B.Sc. Arch, LEED AP (BD+C), Dr. Maha Salman is a LEED Accredited Professional architect. She received her PhD in Sustainable Architecture from the University of Huddersfield-UK, where she got 'The Vice Chancellor's Award for an Outstanding Research Degree Thesis' for a dissertation titled 'Sustainability Potential of Traditional Architecture in the Arab World '. Dr. Salman has gained her professional experience as a researcher and a professor through studying and working in a number of institutions in UK, Canada, and the Middle East. In addition to her work as an academic, Dr. Salman has worked as an architect and LEED consultant for various projects in the Middle East. For her research work, Dr. Salman has won several awards such as the 'Best Paper Award for Innovation in Research & Practice for GCC Countries' from Institute of Urban & Regional Planning & Design of the American University in Sharjah-UAE. In January 2017, her book 'Contemporary Trends in Sustainable Architecture' was been published in Jordan. Lately, Dr. Salman's paper, 'Sustainable and Smart: Rethinking What a Smart Home Is', has received the Best Paper Award at the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) that was held in Amsterdam in 2016.

Extended Abstract

Introduction and Context

Is there an approach that allows us to go beyond best practices in the creation and teaching of online courses? Can such an approach assist online learners create deeper understanding and meaning?

In online education, where instructors cannot rely on the teaching methodology typically used in face to face classrooms, we attempt to bridge the gap between what is taught and how it is taught by creating courses based on learning models that are simple to follow. Yet these models rarely provide the depth of exploration into learning and motivational theory needed, leaving instructors with limited understanding of why these practices can be effective. In other words, we are told to “do this”, when in reality if the same approach were used with students, we would rarely see learning meet our expectations. Herein lies one of the critical missed opportunities in online education. We expect students to move beyond mere understanding, but we do not have the same expectation of educators.

Methodology and Approach

This pilot study analyzes the effectiveness of the redevelopment of an online course using a motivational framework for learner engagement, and culturally responsible teaching (Wlodkowski, 2008). With a basis in adult cognition and motivation theory, it looks beyond the institution’s adopted learning model, to provide the depth of knowledge educators need to intentionally create engaging learning activities. It also illustrates how the motivational framework instrument was applied within select course activities (i.e., units) and the course design as a whole.

The course selected for analysis is a senior level humanities course, Philosophy of Design that is representative of required curricula for undergraduate design and architecture degrees. The course not only provides an understanding of design theory and relevant philosophy, but also the correlations with cultural, political, socioeconomic, and historic contexts. Hence, the goal is to help students move into the realm of abstract thought to attain greater meaning and insight as identified in Fischer’s skill theory (1980). 

The presentation of materials and findings will align the motivational strategies with course content and supported by student work while providing realistic explanations of intent. It will be organized and delivered using the same motivational framework to allow the audience to experience both the process and the results for themselves.

Review of Literature

The Current Instructional Model

The existing instructional model for online learning is based on Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. Teachers/content experts are given an overview of the principles and their means of implementation in an introductory workshop and in the institution’s faculty resources in the LMS system. The principles (Chickering and Gamson, 1987) are:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students
  3. Encourages active learning
  4. Gives prompt feedback
  5. Emphasizes time on task
  6. Communicates high expectations
  7. Respect diverse learning

They are implemented through discussion forums in the LMS system (Moodle) and in virtual meeting rooms (OmniJoin).

While simple and expedient to adopt, it is evident that the instructional model is both prescriptive and lacking in sufficient detail. It tells us what to do and how to do it, but not why we should. Why should we encourage interaction between faculty and students, or students and peers? What is the advantage of active learning? Why should we respect diversity in student ability? Who are we teaching and how do they learn? If the intent is to create a motivational learning experience, then what is motivation?

Cognitive Development

Adult learners have a sense of responsibility to themselves and to society (Wlodkowksi, 2008). Skill theory incorporates the concept that seven skill levels occur from adolescence throughout adult life (Fischer, 1980). Skill levels are organized according to type of cognition, with abstract thought typically in the realm of adult learners. Fischer (1980) indicated that cognitive functions, which occur at optimal levels, are consistent with high levels of contextual support and practice.  In other words optimal learning is the result of cognitive function where learners engage with different types of activities repeatedly, but also see the meaning and context for those activities. The use of intentional strategies for abstract thought is essential for the instruction of theoretical topics and is used throughout the course.

Motivational Theory

Motivation is not simply encouraging a given action or behavior based on rewards. While extrinsic motivation is influenced by outside forces for reward (e.g., grades), intrinsic motivation acknowledges the individual’s myriad experiences, personal desires, emotions, and values in a more complex understanding of what influences learners to engage (Wlodkwoski, 2008). Therefore, socialization and how we form value systems as individuals is an inherent part of human motivation and learning. Similarly, Huitt & Hummel (2003) in their discussion of Vygotsky’s views on social constructivism, distinguish the importance of social constructs as a precursor to creating new meanings that transform. By creating learning experiences that are meaningful, we also create motivational ones.

The Motivational Framework

Wlodkowski’s (2008) motivational framework for culturally responsive teaching is an instrument for creating intrinsically motivational learning experiences for adults based on adult cognition and development. It addresses why educators should develop and teach using intentional strategies. Further it provides those strategies in a way that allows for flexible application to a variety of learning activities and levels. While not originally intended for online learning, they strategies still apply. The basis of the instrument is to create motivational conditions at given times of any learning experience, from beginning to end (i.e., Inclusion, Attitude, Meaning, and Competence, sequentially).

At the beginning: Inclusion and Attitude

Inclusion is established for all members (e.g., teachers and learners of different backgrounds and cultures) by creating a climate of respect that acts as a connection. Strategies for inclusion are used in the first two units of the pilot study through lectures, synchronous and asynchronous discussion, and assignments that introduce different ways of thinking (i.e., critical vs. abstract thought), while using contexts that students are familiar with.

Creating a condition favorable to developing Attitude hinges on two primary characteristics, that of relevance and choice. Relevance allows diverse learner populations to engage, while choice allows learners to exhibit levels of control and autonomy.We can create learning environments that change attitudes (i.e., attitudinal directions), and by considering learner perception and judgement of activities we can create a positive emotional state that influences behavior (Wlodkowski, 2008). Scaffolding strategies are used throughout the pilot study to link course content and build upon previous knowledge. It is supported through synchronous and asynchronous discussion sessions to help learners establish their own expectations for success. Student work from the final assignment of the pilot study provides evidence of scaffolding approaches as students bring multiple ideas together using deeper thought and analysis. 

During: Meaning

During learning experiences, the motivational condition is to enhance Meaning through challenging activities that consider learner viewpoints and value systems. Wlodkowski differentiates between the concepts of interest and meaning, stating “What is interesting usually has meaning for us, but not always.”(2008, p. 181). Additionally, the types of interest (e.g., personal interest, and situational interest), combine to create a psychological state of interest that is interactive and promotes engagement (Krapp, Hidi, and Renninger, 1992 as cited in Wlodkowski, 2008). A variety of strategies are used in the pilot study to enhance meaning, including: providing response opportunities (i.e., situations for leaners to participate publicly); manding stimuli to emphasize important ideas and expectations; varying modes of instruction; and engaging learner emotions with humor or parapathic emotions. This condition is emphasized in each unit of the pilot study and supported through synchronous and asynchronous activities, while student work from units four through six provides evidence.

At the end: Competence

The final condition, engendering competence occurs at the end of learning experiences and reiterates the relevance of the learning activity to what is valued (Wlodkowski 2008). While assessment (e.g., grades) is often the strongest motivational factor for adult learners it is also the most common stressor. Authentic assessment allows learners to connect to and affirm the experience to their lives. Authentic assessment is based on agreed upon standards, and avoiding bias to engender competence. Evidence of this condition is provided in the form of a post-instructional survey of students.


The original version of the course resulted in student confusion and lower levels of knowledge integration. Upon redevelopment of the course, student outcomes were stronger and, equally as important, their level of engagement with the topics led to future application. A polling of students who completed the course indicates that it remains one of their favorites primarily because of the satisfaction they felt upon completing it.

While this is only a pilot study of the use of motivational theory in online courses, indications are promising that going beyond best practices has a direct impact on student competence and knowledge transfer.


Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.E. (1987). Seven Principles For Good Practice In Undergraduate Education. Retrieved on April 25, 2017 from

Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of  hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87(6), 477-531.

Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (2003). Piaget's theory of cognitive development. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved on May 16, 2017 from

Wlodkowski, R. J. (2008). Enhancing adult motivation to learn (3rd ed.). San Francisco:Jossey-Bass