Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Motivational currents to understand informal #MOOC learning #PhD

A PhD journey has its ups and downs. And there is also an ongoing tension to put any findings you might have in a strong theoretical body of knowledge. Proving that your study is part of a scientific field, with strong arguments and good foundations. While I am investigating how experienced learners self-direct their informal MOOC learning (looking at MOOCs in the FutureLearn platform), I have come across a couple of findings that could all be connected to educational research. The difficulty is finding a way to convincingly link the data outcomes: motivation, proximity of context, emotions guiding learning, personal traits (e.g. self-esteem), personal goal setting, individual or/and social learning into a full picture of how my experienced, adult learners go about learning in MOOCs. This lead to some anxiety in my write up stage. The problem was not that I got these outcomes (for the data were clear), but that I had to somehow pin it to a strong previous research that could embrace all these outcomes (or at least most of them, while leaving a possible new angle for my study). So I read a lot, yet kept hitting a wall.

This is where the help, knowledge and experience of supervisors came in (once again). I have been lucky to get two very experienced, intelligent and supportive supervisors (Mike Sharples and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme). I truly mean that. As a PhD student your supervisors are appointed to you, so you need to accept those that you will work with. Supervisors will be your closest colleagues for at least 3 years, which means that they (and you) are the core social team of that part of your professional life. At several points in my PhD journey I would get stuck, or become very anxious, and somehow, supervisors put me and my research back on track by giving pointers (just pointers, not grabbing you by the hand, just simply directing you toward the yellow brick road to find your way home: getting the PhD title).

Similar this time. In this case it was Agnes who pointed me to new research by Zoltan Dörnyei , Christine Muir & Alastair Henry,  Motivational Currents in Language Learning with subtitle: Frameworks for Focused Interventions.
All of a sudden my findings seem to have a central meeting point, and after a first reading, it seems that I will be able to pin what I found to a previous and strong bit of research. Zoltan Dornyei has worked on motivation most of his professional life, but in this book/research he gives it a twist, bringing motivation, emotion, goal/vision setting together and with a clear personal drive that directs the learning. True, what Zoltan looks at is (formal) language learning and cases are mostly coming from project work in class, and not (informal) MOOC learning which I investigate, but as I looked at the lecture he gave (embedded below), my eyes opened and I got the feeling that I had found (thanks to Agnes and Mike) what I was looking for all along: my research hook. So I ordered the paperback version of Dornyei's book, and will get to work with it next week. In the meantime, I am sketching outlines of what I want to say based on the information I got from the shared keynote below.