This category of possible performance represents goals that a user aims to achieve through a determined skill. While going through the interview, it appeared that performance measure is a useful incentive to increase the engagement of the students. Indeed, most of the users found positive the fact that they could receive a grade from Coursera because they could test their skills from what they had been learning throughout the course. This subcategory explains how important it is for the user to understand the level of skill that he/she can master. Furthermore, the grading system has a perceived feedback. In this regard, feedback would be an important factor to motivate students to learn as most of the participants stated that it would be useful to receive feedback. As such, Courser’ learners perceived grades as a feedback, as they could understand how much they had been learning. However, I believe that the grading system does not reflect the real performance of a user. This is because the identification system does not completely certify the validity of the results that a user submits. Additionally, users can easily manipulate the outcome. Notably, Agne stated that she does the assignments until the moment she gets the best grade. Thus, this system becomes less reliable, and the grading system cannot be termed as a proper method to indicate the performance of the users. Therefore, users perceive grades as a way to measure how much they have been learning.
Deadlines seemed to appear a guide for the users. Notably, some of them explicitly cited that is important having a time limit, but others stated that it was the real problem and main reason why they dropped out of the classes. From the results evidenced in the previous section, it is easy to understand that this factor is highly correlated with the background of the users. This shows that many users have their way to structure the coursers since they have different priorities while they are enrolled in a course.
The level of difficulty or challenge affects user motivation to achieve their goal. This feature seemed to be crucial in triggering users’ motivation and motivating them to complete a course and tested their acquired skills. Indeed, most of the users expressed a confident assumption when they are challenged to solve a practical quiz. However, according to the theory of goal setting (1968), a task must not be too difficult or not too easy but must be adjusted to the skills of the user. An interesting fact found through the interviews is that some users have stated that the reasons why they completed a course were that it was too easy for them to complete. I assume, therefore, that the level of achievement is also related to the users’ effort. Specifically, users may complete a course, acquire a skill for the sense of completion, and be intrinsically motivated. On the other hand, in the case of a course, it is too difficult regarding knowledge as this aspect negatively affects users’ motivation. The reason is that users decide to dedicate their spare time in acquiring new knowledge, and since they have already used their effort in previous activities, they may be frustrated to learn something too difficult to them. Indeed, many participants expressed that they access Coursera and do the exercises after work, school or in their weekend.
Coursera’ learners may be more motivated when they are challenged because they are curious to see the outcome of the course and, in case they complete the course, they would have a significant satisfaction. The level of difficulty, therefore, affects users’ motivation and is critical in case Coursera wants to engage more students. The reason is also that users want to test their skills. This makes them more confident in case they face further challenges in the future.
The structure of the coursers and their characteristics seemed to be important factors in users’ motivation and theoir potential achievements. Indeed, some participants explained that one of the reasons why they use Coursera is because they can find a well-structured course from notorious universities and have a solid basis to start to learn new skills. The use of external materials seemed to be really an important feature and for some users was actually one of the best parts of Coursera. Indeed, is seemed very important for them that a professor from a university could make a comparison from the knowledge acquired with the external examples. Precisely, this is because users could better understand a subject, and deeply study the subject, as the external materials are contents that remains “forever”. Indeed, these kind of external sources are taken from the internet and free. As such, users can use them whenever they want. This particular source triggers both user motivation and the potential achievement because users can be still motivated to learn the content alone without the restriction of following videos and deadlines. Additionally, they are more motivated to be challenged out of the course. For example, a user who has been learning a course in R programming during a course may be interested to continue to master the skills in order to be better in what he/she is doing. However, in case he/she wants to achieve a goal by using a different dataset, this will enables him/her to rely on other external materials and guide them in a certain way to finish the task without going back to Coursera.
According to the answers of the participants, it is important that the results obtained from passing a course are given immediately. When Coursera learners only acquire “pure knowledge”, they cannot see any outcome from what they have been learning. This fact explains why users that have completed a course in programming prefer these types of assignments so that they can instantly see the outcome of what they learned. Moreover, this fact applies in cases when the learner successfully masters the skill. In contrast, some of the participants explain also, how nice it is to practice their acquired skills and see a negative outcome from it and, therefore, learn from their own mistakes. This context enables learners to use Coursera to practice their own skills without the fear of any punishment. Eventually, they do not feel at all pressured by extrinsic circumstances. This enables users to have more of an exploratory approach to what they are learning while enrolled in a course.
RQ1: The Effectiveness of the Incentives Provided From the Online Courses
The main result achieved with this study is that users have different backgrounds and motivations when they enrol in Coursera. However, users that access the course are mainly motivated to master new skills in a short period. As such, they have a more personal/intrinsic motivation to access the course. This explains why users find it difficult to understand what is taught from the course. The need of mastering further skills showed how is important for Coursera’ users to learn and achieve new skills. This is the main purpose for users to access Coursera. Therefore, incentives that triggers intrinsic motivations, which aids in mastering new skills are more effective then external rewards. More specifically, strategies that trigger intrinsic motivation are more effective to incentivize users’ engagement and increase completion rate. Lepper and Malone (1987) identified four major factors that make a learning environment intrinsically motivating: challenge, curiosity, control and fantasy. As described in the previous chapter, the level of difficulty seemed to be an important factor affecting the decision of the users to continue or drop out from a course. Similarly, Onah et al. (2014) opines that the inadequate level of difficulty from MOOC coursers is one of the reasons why users drop out. However, the behaviour of the user is similar to a student who is enrolled into a university but the difference is the term of commitment. In this regard, Coursera aims to fulfil short goals for the students while the university tends to fulfil long terms goals. Furthermore, the motivations of each user changes while they are enrolled in a course. This is because their motivation is affected by the relevance of the task that they are committed to in the moment that they enrol in a course.
Extrinsic factors are, however, crucial for Coursera learners’ engagement. Indeed, many participants claimed that they are motivated to enrol to a course in order to acquire desired skills for their work environments. Additionally, when a user purchases a certificate, he is more motivated to complete a course because he made a financial commitment and, in case he does not finish the course, he will lose his investment. Moreover, this explains why among the people that have bought a certificate; the completion rate is higher than those who do not buy a certificate. Therefore, we can say that both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards offered by Coursera are influential in the learning process of a user.
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