Key Takeaway: There are some studies supporting the notion that learning with ease suggests fluency and can lead to better performance. However, this can lead to a misconception that learning has to be easy and facing challenges is problematic. It is important to establish that difficulties are part of learning and that disfluency can open up possibilities for identity exploration. Virtual learning environments (VLEs) can be designed in such a way that they support this exploration, by looking at features such as gamification, engagement and connection, and learning supports. —Nika Espinosa

In their article, Oyserman and Dawson look at the framework of identity-based motivation and how it connects to virtual learning environments (VLEs). Identity-based motivation is about the self and the motivational power behind it. This includes procedural readiness, action readiness, and dynamic construction. “Together, these core aspects provide a framework for understanding the interplay between people’s sense of who they are, their actions, their interpretations of experienced ease and difficulty, and how learning environments may frame these processes.” 

The authors used the identity-based motivation lens to examine how to enhance VLEs. With the current global context, digital learning platforms have boomed. According to Lenhart (2016), “almost all (92%) adolescents currently go online daily and nearly three in four (72%) play games, regardless of their socioeconomic status, age, race, or gender.”1 But even before the global pandemic, as technology aims to further enhance our lives, digital platforms are increasingly being used in education. Oyserman and Dawson believe that VLEs have the potential to provide opportunities for identity exploration because they are versatile and dynamic. “As such, they can scaffold either a learn-with-ease norm that diminishes engagement with schoolwork and forecloses identity exploration or a learn-through-difficulty norm that enhances both.” Moving forward, we need to understand how to effectively use VLEs and how they can complement face-to-face learning.

In connection with identity-based motivation and the research mentioned by the authors, it can be inferred that students in a difficulty-as-importance context outperform students who are in a difficulty-as-impossibility context or even students who are not posed with either context. This is a consideration when designing VLEs. When VLEs are successful, they have the potential to improve engagement and connection when learning. “This is more likely when the VLE learning norm does not conflate ease with learning but instead links learning and engaging with difficulty.” According to the authors, VLEs can be used to identify probable future identities in relation to identity-based motivation. For example, an activity that is science-based could encourage the learner to consider a possible future in the same field. 

Meaningful learning comes with effort.2,3 When students acknowledge and accept the notion of difficulty-as-important, engagement and connection increase. In the context of well-designed VLEs, these can also be used to promote self-discovery.  

Article Summarized: 

Oyserman, D., & Dawson, A. (2021). Successful learning environments support and harness students’ identity-based motivation: A primer. The Journal of Experimental Education, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220973.2021.1873091

Summary by: Nika Espinosa—Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Lenhart, A. (2016). Teens, social media & technology overview, Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/ internet/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/
  2. Kornell, N., & Bjork, R. A. (2007). The promise and perils of self-regulated study. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 219–224. https://doi.org/10.3758/bf03194055
  3. Yan, V. X., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2016). On the difficulty of mending metacognitive illusions: A priori theo- ries, fluency effects, and misattributions of the interleaving benefit. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(7), 918–933. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000177