A framework for self-determination in massive open online courses: Design for autonomy, competence, and relatedness

Neil Martin, Nick Kelly, Peter Terry


In this paper, we propose a framework for the design of massive open online courses (MOOCs) based upon the principles of self-determination theory, which posits a relationship between intrinsic motivation and the basic psychological need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. We also report the results of design-based research that evaluates the application of the framework to a MOOC titled “Elite Sport Performance: Psychological Perspectives”. Satisfying basic psychological needs is theorised as central to course design in order to foster intrinsic motivation, optimise engagement, and improve the retention of course participants. We chronicle the design, implementation, and evaluation of the course, providing examples of support features and learning activities. The course was offered over a period of four months, receiving more than 1000 registrations from across the world. Engagement measures, completion indices, and intrinsic motivation scores are reported as well as sample testimonies from learners. Results offer preliminary evidence that a design framework incorporating self-determination theory has utility in the development of MOOCs that successfully engage learners.


Self-Determination Theory, Open Learning, Online Courses, MOOC, Learning Design, Case Study, Open Education

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.3722