Online self-study, motivation and student engagement

This article is all about engaging with academic research to help us reflect on our own teaching practice. There are many levels on which you can do this, but sometimes gaining an insight into the ways in which researchers consider and analyse their data can be as valuable as the actual findings.

A recent study explored how to address the challenge of engaging all students via self-paced interactive electronic learning tutorials for introductory physics. It tracked American undergraduates involved in using online self-study learning modules covering topics such as Newton’s laws, conservation of energy and momentum. The paper is available freely (see link below) but it is the analytical framework that we will consider here as it may be of use for developing online, self-study courses to supplement face-to-face teaching.

The authors, DeVore, Marshman and Singh, propose four key considerations when developing and implementing effective and engaging online self-study courses. They outline a Self-study for Engaged Learning Framework (SELF) to help with this process. Fuller detail can be found in the paper, but we have summarised the four key considerations below in the form of example questions that one might ask when reflecting on course design and implementation.

The value of this framework is that it can help us be consistent, rigorous and thorough. It can help us ask the right kind of questions to develop and improve the quality of what we do. It does not lead to a single clear and unambiguous ‘correct’ approach to design, but asking these questions can improve the effectiveness of practice.

Self-study for Engaged Learning Framework (SELF)

Internal tool considerations:
  • When designing the tool, did I think about how the materials are presented, how they build upon each other and how students can engage with them?
  • How does it develop knowledge, understanding and mastery?
  • How can it provide formative feedback?
  • How can it facilitate ‘productive struggle’ that is encouraging but not demotivating?
External tool considerations:
  • How does the tool help students monitor their own progress and success?
  • Does it support students to collaborate and communicate with each other?
  • Are there ways in which it can support students to manage their time well?
Internal user considerations:
  • Have I integrated what the students bring to the task, such as subject knowledge, prior experiences, motivations, attitudes and goals?
External user considerations:
  • What help and support is in place to help students to self-manage?
  • How have I balanced the expectations between what might be done in class or face-to-face and what is expected from self-study?
  • What is the impact of context in which students will be working, such as support from family and teachers?


Read Challenge of engaging all students via self-paced interactive electronic learning tutorials for introductory physics in Physical Review Physics Education Research at


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