Learner Agency, Motive, and Self-Regulated Learning in an Online ESL Writing Class


  • Jie Zhang




Online learning has become a viable popular alternative to traditional
ESL writing classes over the past decade. However, the effectiveness
and validity of online ESL learning remains controversial.
Furthermore, most researchers have used surveys to assess student
perceptions of online learning. This study presents a case study of two
participants in an online ESL writing course at a university in the
Northeastern United States. Using activity theory as a framework, I
explore what makes a successful learner in an online environment and
how learner agency, motive, and self-regulation impact student
performance and academic achievement in the online learning context.
Data from different sources were collected to provide a triangulated
analysis. Results suggest that learners who employ good self-regulation
strategies and are motivated to learn and adapt tend to benefit more
from the online learning experience, while students who do not employ
such strategies and are motivated solely to fulfill a degree requirement
are more likely to be frustrated. The results also reveal that the
physical distance created by technology could be a challenge for those
who do not seek assistance from instructors or peers. In other words,
learners need guidance and support on how to be self-motivated and
self-directed in the online environment. I also discuss how to effectively
design and deliver an online ESL course.