Self-regulation of Motivation when Learning Online: The importance of who, why and how

Carol Sansone
Tamra Fraughton
Joseph L. Zachary
Jonathan Butner
Cecily Heiner


Successful online students must learn and maintain motivation to learn. The Self-regulation of Motivation (SRM) model (Sansone and Thoman 2005) suggests two kinds of motivation are essential: Goals-defined (i.e., value and expectancy of learning), and experience-defined (i.e., whether interesting). The Regulating Motivation and Performance Online (RMAPO) project examines implications using online HTML lessons. Initial project results suggested that adding usefulness information (enhancing goals-defined motivation) predicted higher engagement levels (enhancing experience), which in turn predicted motivation (interest) and performance (HTML quiz) outcomes. The present paper examined whether individual interest in computers moderated these results. When provided the utility value information, students with higher (relative to lower) individual interest tended to display higher engagement levels, especially when usefulness was framed in terms of personal versus organizational applications. In contrast, higher engagement levels continued to positively predict outcomes regardless of individual interest. We discuss implications for designing optimal online learning environments.


Self-regulation of motivation, Interest experience, Online learning, Utility value, Engagement, Individual interest, Goals-defined motivation, Experience-defined motivation


This study uses the Self-regulation of Motivation (SRM) model which suggests that reasons for motivation might change between goals-defined and experience-focused. Goals-defined motivation is described as providing a personal outcome whereas experience-defined provides a more work applicable approach. The authors suggest that a student can being as goals-defined and move into experience-defined as their interest in the topic increases. In this study, 108 undergraduate students were first surveyed and then asked to come in-person to a computer lab to give feedback via a post-activity survey on a potential online course module (a lesson from an actual HTML course). Results suggest that individual student interest in the topic did not affect motivation, performance or engagement in the required components of the online module. However, student interest did correlate with completion of optional components of the module suggesting that interested students were more active (and experience-focused) learners. Students higher in individual interest performed higher when the material was framed as providing personal outcomes whereas uninterested students were more motivated when the material was framed as work related. The authors suggest these findings indicate that both goals-defined and experience-focused approaches to motivation need to be considered in the development of online courses.

APA Citation

Sansone, C., Fraughton, T., Zachary, J. L., Butner, J., & Heiner, C. (2011). Self-regulation of motivation when learning online: The importance of who, why and how. Educational Technology Research and Development, 59(2), 199-212.

About the Study

Links to Article
Mode Online
Publication Type Journal Article
In Publication Educational Technology Research and Development
Type of Research Mixed methods
Research Design Experiments, Survey research (qualitative or quantitative)
Intervention/Areas of Study Student motivation
Level of Analysis Student-level
Specific Populations Examined Undergraduates
Peer-Reviewed Yes
Specific Institutional Characteristics of Interest Bachelors-granting
Specific Course or Program Characteristics Arts and humanities, Formal sciences, Natural sciences, Social sciences, STEM
Outcome Variables of Interest Course completion, Degree attainment, Learning effectiveness, Persistence, Satisfaction
Student Sample Size 100-199
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