Examining the Relations among Student Motivation, Engagement, and Retention in a MOOC: A Structural Equation Modeling Approach

  • Yao Xiong The Pennsylvania State University
  • Hongli Li Georgia State University
  • Mindy L. Kornhaber The Pennsylvania State University
  • Hoi K. Suen The Pennsylvania State University
  • Barton Pursel The Pennsylvania State University
  • Deborah D. Goins The Pennsylvania State University
Keywords: MOOC, Retention, Motivation, Engagement


Students who are enrolled in MOOCs tend to have different motivational patterns than fee-paying college students. A majority of MOOC students demonstrate characteristics akin more to "tourists" than formal learners. As a consequence, MOOC studentsΓÇÖ completion rate is usually very low. The current study examines the relations among student motivation, engagement, and retention using structural equation modeling and data from a Penn State University MOOC. Three distinct types of motivation are examined: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and social motivation. Two main hypotheses are tested: (a) motivation predicts student course engagement; and (b) student engagement predicts their retention in the course. The results show that motivation is significantly predictive of student course engagement. Furthermore, engagement is a strong predictor of retention. The findings suggest that promoting student motivation and monitoring individual studentsΓÇÖ online activities might improve course retention.