Both effort regulation and intrinsic motivation among students in this study had a significant unique influence on procrastination. Results indicated that as intrinsic motivation to learn and effort regulation decrease, procrastination increases. Since procrastination has a negative influence on student performance, the findings provide important information for online teachers trying to develop strategies that will improve student achievement in online courses.
Individually, both effort regulation and intrinsic motivation influence procrastination behavior are characteristics that can be influenced by online instructors in an effort to reduce procrastination. The results of this study indicate that together, these two factors powerfully influence procrastination.
Implications for Practice: Encouraging Effort Regulation
Effort regulation involves the ability to continue to work in the face of distractions. Five strategies for encouraging effort regulation in students are of particular interest to online instructors.
Use peer modeling. Bandura (1986) asserts that students learn by observing
others, not simply by doing tasks themselves. Peer modeling can, therefore, increase
student learning. Peer models allow students to compare themselves to similar individuals
and learn new skills, to perform previously held skills prompted by the observation of others’ behavior, and to facilitate self-regulation. Students who lack self-regulatory skills such as effort regulation can experience difficulty, particularly in the online environment in which they are expected to manage their own learning. “College students who have not learned to be self-regulated learners can learn self-regulation strategies through peer modeling” (Orange, 1999, p. 24). Student interactions in chat rooms and in discussion boards can have the effect of peer modeling, even if that effect is unintentional. When providing feedback on such communications, instructors can highlight particularly good student messages so other students are made aware of what the instructor considers a good model for other students (Roberts, 2006). Tools such as blogs and Wikis can also facilitate online peer modeling as students share their work with others as they complete projects. With proper instructor feedback, peer models can encourage students to perform at higher levels.
Minimize distractions. Two suggestions for helping students manage interference that can lower effort regulation involve encouraging students to minimize distractions, both physical and mental, from the work environment. “It therefore seems likely that successful volitional training will require the kind of naturalistic, guided or participant modeling and evidence of utility that has come to characterize more effective forms of cognitive strategy training as well” (Corno, 1989, p. 119). Steel (2007) suggests that “Management of distracting cues could facilitate the prevention of procrastination so that one either fails to encode these cues or limits their processing so that they are not fully valued” (p. 70). For example, if one is distracted by an open Web browser page that makes it easy to participate in email conversations, then an act as simple as closing that Web browser while working on a course assignment can reduce procrastination.
Kuhl (1985) also suggests that putting away certain mental distractions can also
reduce procrastination. In particular, students should be encouraged to avoid repeatedly
contemplating past mistakes or failures that are related to a current course task. For
example, a student may hesitate to complete a research project that involves statistical
analysis because repeated thoughts about past problems with such an assignment prevent
progress and result in procrastination. With both types of distractions, simply making
students self-aware through individual communication or group informational materials
can diminish procrastination behaviors.
Create strict deadlines. Silver (1974 as cited in Steel, 2007) asserts that one factor
that predicts procrastination is the number of choices that a student must make while
pursuing a task. The more choices students have, the more likely it is that they will
become distracted and procrastinate. Reducing the number of choice points can help
establish productive habits and reduce the tendency to procrastinate. Creating strict
schedules for assignment deadlines with checkpoints along that time frame helps to
reduce poor choices that can cause students to postpone completion of assignments.
Waiting until the last minute to complete assignments tends to reduce both the quality of
the learning experience and the grade received for that work.
Sequence tasks appropriately. The pace and sequencing of course tasks may
positively influence effort regulation. Instructors can alternate more difficult tasks with
less difficult tasks. There is some research to suggest that current effort regulation can be
affected by the effort exerted in the immediate past. In Wright, Martin, and Bland’s
(2003) experiment, effort regulation for a subsequent task was reduced in individuals
who were given an initial task they found to be difficult. Depleted participants exerted
less effort on a second task as compared to participants in the control group that had not
been depleted by a previous task. Allowing students sufficient time to recover from
demanding tasks before presenting a subsequent difficult task may encourage consistent,
strong effort regulation throughout a course.
Implications for Practice: Encouraging Intrinsic Motivation
There is a large body of research concerning instructor behaviors that can enhance
intrinsic motivation in students. Five of these factors are particularly relevant to students
in online courses.
Create a sense of community. Yang, et al. (2006) asserts that when students
perceive the social availability and presence of other students and the instructor, intrinsic
motivation increases. Particularly in online courses in which there is physical distance
between the instructor and students, it is important for instructors to find ways to
demonstrate an openness to communication from students and to encourage student
participation. Online environments such as Blackboard make it simple to create student
home pages that include photographs and personal introductions that can create a sense of
belonging to a class (Bennett & Monds, 2008). Email addresses and ungraded chat rooms
can be provided for students and thereby encourage communication among class
Project a supportive instructional style. A supportive teaching style can increase
intrinsic motivation in students. Research by Deci, Spiegel, Ryan, Koestner, and
Kauffman (1982) shows that when teachers are controlling, students display lowered
intrinsic motivation than when teachers support autonomy in their students. Additionally,
Noels, Clement, and Pelletier (1999) found that perceptions of teachers’ style of
communicating with students were related to students’ intrinsic motivation. As teacher
behavior became more controlling and less informative, students’ intrinsic motivation
was lowered. More learner-centered teacher behaviors such as providing encouragement
and showing interest in students’ questions and accomplishments will enhance intrinsic
Because of the lack of face-to-face feedback in online classes, instructors should
intentionally demonstrate their support for students in written communications with
students. One method for providing this support is through frequent, positive feedback
concerning students’ progress in the online course. Deci and Ryan (1985) assert that
individuals tend to be successful and more intrinsically motivated when they receive
positive, verbal feedback.
Encourage a perception of competence. Online courses require not only typical
academic skills, but also require a level of mastery of technological skills as well. A
student’s belief that he or she can perform successfully is important to the development
and maintenance of intrinsic motivation (Reeve & Deci, 1996). Students are encouraged
by positive comments from instructors regarding their ability to successfully complete a
Instructors can diminish technology-related fears by providing multiple sources
from which students can receive assistance with technology issues. Such resources can
include the instructor, another student, a university technology center’s help desk, or
Web-based tutorials. Overcoming such difficulties can contribute to a feeling of success
and reinforce intrinsic motivation.
Present challenges. Critical to maintaining intrinsic motivation is the presentation
of tasks in a course that make students feel that they are performing at capacity.
Otherwise, students tend to become bored and lose motivation for the course. Instructors
must be careful to avoid creating tasks that are too difficult because doing so can create
anxiety and reduce intrinsic motivation. When there is balance between opportunity and
skill, students are motivated to act (Deci ; Ryan, 1985).
Encourage autonomy. Research has demonstrated that providing people with
choices as to how they pursue activities increases intrinsic motivation; externally
controlling influences can have the opposite effect (Enzle, Wright, ; Redondo, 1996).
When possible, instructors should allow students some freedom to approach assignments
from the perspective of their own goals and specific interests.
Procrastination can be harmful to student achievement, and may be particularly
harmful in the online environment. Because the sample in the present study was small,
further research with larger samples of online graduate students is needed to examine
motivational and self-regulatory variables and the influence of intrinsic motivation and
effort regulation on procrastination in particular. Such additional research would confirm
the extent to which this convenience sample actually represents the population of
graduate students enrolled in online programs.
More research is needed to test the influence of specific instructional strategies on
intrinsic motivation and effort regulation. Specifically, there is a need to measure the
effects of these strategies on the reduction of procrastination behavior in online students.
The present study used a self-reported measure of procrastination. Future research
might employ observation of actual procrastination behavior as an additional,
confirmatory measure of student procrastination. The incorporation of such data would
strengthen the results of future investigations of procrastination and self-regulatory
In spite of the limitations of the present study, the results provide additional
support for the existence and importance of the relationship between procrastination and
motivation and self-regulated learning. Problems caused by procrastination in online
classes can be explained in part by students’ use of specific learning strategies and their
motivation for participating in the program. Graduate students’ motivational orientation
and use of learning strategies can be positively influenced by teachers, thus mitigating
some of these problems resulting from procrastination in online classes.
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