Autonomy is a key ingredient of motivation. Students are motivated by the ability to choose how they accomplish their learning goals. However, not all students are used to having autonomy, which is why it's important to find ways to make them more comfortable with taking greater control of their learning.
In an interview with Online Classroom, Curt Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University, offered the following suggestions for helping online learners become more autonomous:
- Offer advice. It's important to explain how the course will proceed and to offer students “paths” that they might choose in order to accomplish the goals of the course.
- Provide testimonials from a past student. A student who has taken the course can share his or her experiences in the course. If you do a synchronous session, you can have a previous student co-teach for a session, explaining how the course will proceed. “Having that person come in and explain it is vital,” Bonk says.
- Create tutorials. Tutorials can help allay the fears of using new tools and can encourage students to experiment with digital media and create something for their portfolios.
- Offer low-risk choices. Not all students are comfortable with stretching their limits when it comes to using technology. This is why Bonk offers students low-risk options for accomplishing learning goals, not requiring them to use the most sophisticated technology available. “It keeps them within their comfort zones, at least initially,” Bonk says. Once they are comfortable with the course, you can encourage students to try more complicated, higher-risk activities.