Monday, June 16, 2014

Attribution Theory and Online Learning

In my earlier posts, I discussed the ESPRI and the factors associated with predicting student success. My research is looking to examine how we can use the ESPRI to help improve student performance in online courses by addressing areas of weakness in a student’s “soft” skill set. To recap, the four areas covered in the ESPRI are technology self-efficacy, achievement beliefs, organizational skills, and academic risk-taking. In this post, I will discuss ways to intervene with the first two.

To begin, some definitions. Self-efficacy relates to the beliefs about successfully performing academic tasks, while self-concept is the knowledge and perceptions about one’s own academic achievement (Ferla et al., 2009). Attribution theory (Weiner, 1992) relates to the reasons that students attribute academic outcomes, which fall into three categories: locus of control (i.e., are the reasons internal or external to the learner?), stability (i.e., is the reason temporary or lasting?), and controllability (i.e., how it relates to learner persistence).

Simply put, the more the student believes that he or she is in control of the outcome, the more likely the student is to persist, maintain motivation, and change behaviors to improve learning.  Since a large population of online learners are taking courses for credit recovery, or are in an alternative setting due to being unsuccessful in a traditional school, changing mindsets is critical.

But how do you teach that? Can you teach that? Studies have been somewhat scarce and mixed. Walden and Ramey (1983) found that high-risk students who participated in a long-term intervention on internalizing control did see improvement in academic achievement. Robertson’s (2000) review of attribution retraining studies found mixed results, and based on the review recommended that attribution retraining interventions should include additional steps to ensure positive results. In other words, simply telling students to internalize attributions may lead to decreased motivation if they are still unsuccessful. Robertson suggested the inclusion of other learning strategies; thus, if the student is not successful, it could be viewed as a mistake related to the strategy rather than overall ability. Finally, Chodkiewicz and Boyle (2014) provided an overall critique of attribution studies as they relate to education, stating that much of the literature from the field of psychology is conducted in clinical settings, with little taking place in the classroom.

Regarding my current research with online learning, my efforts seem to be in line with Robertson’s recommendations, as we are looking to tackle multiple strategies and not simply student belief systems.

Chodkiewicz, A. R., & Boyle, C. (2014). Exploring the contribution of attribution retraining to student perceptions and the learning process. Educational Psychology in Practice, 30(1), 78-87.

Ferla, J., Valcke, M., & Cai, Y. (2009). Academic self-efficacy and academic self-concept: Reconsidering structural relationships. Learning and Individual Differences, 19(4), 499-505.

Robertson, J. S. (2000). Is Attribution Training a Worthwhile Classroom Intervention For K–12 Students with Learning Difficulties? Educational Psychology Review, 12(1), 111-134.

Walden, T. A., & Ramey, C. T. (1983). Locus of control and academic achievement: Results from a preschool intervention program. Journal of Educational Psychology, 75(3), 347-358.

Weiner, B. (1992). Human Motivation: Metaphors, Theories and Research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.