Eight Years of Research on K-12 Special Populations and Motivation

Over the past eight years, Michigan Virtual has paid particular attention to online special populations and subsequently online student motivation. Our research team has focused on topics such as online credit recovery, supporting online students with disabilities, and the role of motivation in online courses.
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In 2020, we published a 10 report series summarizing the findings of all of the research we’ve conducted to date. Nearly 100 resources were included in this review, and collectively they provide valuable insights for researchers and practitioners on many aspects of online teaching and learning, such as:

This blog series is meant to accompany these reports and further explore the practical implications of those years of research. 

During the past 8 years Michigan Virtual has paid special attention to online special populations and subsequently online student motivation. 

Our research team has focused on topics such as:

  • Online credit recovery students
  • Online students with disabilities, and 
  • The role of motivation in online courses

These matters as well as resulting implications and best practices are further explored below. For more information on any of the topics below please see the full research report on K-12 online special populations and motivation.  

Online Credit Recovery Students 

Students taking Michigan Virtual courses to recover failed credit represent a small percentage of total enrollments. 

While these students are a minority, on average they did worse in their online course than students who enroll for other reasons. 

However, not all credit recovery students struggle in their online courses. 

In fact, a majority demonstrated consistent work and passed their online course. Nevertheless, a small number showed less active engagement with their course, with little work throughout but a sharp increase in activity near the end of the semester. 

These students demonstrated extremely poor course pacing as they were not able to stay on track with the suggested course progress. 

For this group of students, who have already tried and failed to earn credit, it is important for teachers and mentors to pay close attention to pacing and keep these students on track. 

Online Students with Disabilities

K-12 students with disabilities should be encouraged to enroll in online courses that align with their educational goals and, most importantly, be supported in their courses. 

To ensure that all students can access all course material and be successful, online courses should be designed in accordance with industry standards regarding accessibility such as, but not limited to:

In addition, K-12 online teachers should have training and support to better serve students with disabilities, who, like other students, are learning both the content and how to learn online. 

Given the complexities and challenges of teaching online students with disabilities, K-12 online teachers should be provided training and regular professional development on supporting online students with disabilities. 

Online Student Motivation

On average for Michigan Virtual courses, the more that students are interested in their online course, the higher their final course grades are. 

Unsurprisingly, students who are interested in their courses and motivated to successfully complete their courses tend to have better course outcomes. 

These students may even be able to refine their self-regulation skills in their online courses. Some of the most common feedback from K-12 online students is that their online course helped them learn better time management.

There are, however, a smaller group of less motivated students who do not do as well in their online courses for a variety of reasons. 

These lesser motivated  students, while a minority, struggled more in their online courses than any other motivation group and attributed their performance largely to external factors. 

This group of students may benefit from increased student-teacher interactions and self-regulated learning skill building, beyond what is offered in an orientation course. 

Further research is needed in the area of motivation in Michigan Virtual courses, specifically into the role of self-regulated learning in successful course completion. 

Key Takeaways on K-12 Special Populations and Motivation

  • Carefully monitor students who enroll in online courses for credit recovery. Intervene early and often if they are not on pace with the course. 
  • Encourage students with disabilities to enroll in online courses—if this is desired by both the student and their family, as well as in line with their educational goals. Ensure that the online course and teacher are trained on how to best support each student’s needs. 
  • Much like in face-to-face courses, motivation plays a large and complex role in student success online. Teachers need to be aware of the self-regulation challenges of learning online and help students to develop these skills while also mastering the course content. 

MVLRI Research on K-12 Special Populations and Motivation

Beck, D. (2017). Games used in k-12 schools: A research perspective. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/games-used-in-k-12-schools-a-research-perspective/ 

Cozart, J. (2014, November 14). New research on affective and motivational factors of learning in online mathematics courses. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/new-research-on-affective-and-motivational-factors-of-learning-in-online-mathematics-courses/ 

Deschaine, M. (2018). Supporting students with disabilities in k-12 online and blended learning. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/supporting-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-and-blended-learning/    

Ferdig, R. E. (2010). Understanding the role and applicability of K-12 online learning to support student dropout recovery efforts. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/understanding-the-role-and-applicability-of-k-12-online-learning-to-support-student-dropout-recovery-efforts/   

Hung, A & Rice, K. (2018). Combining data and text mining to develop an early warning system using a deep learning approach. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/combining-data-and-text-mining-to-develop-an-early-warning-system-using-a-deep-learning-approach/ 

Kwon, J. B. (2017a). Examining credit recovery learning profile from time-series clustering analysis. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/examining-credit-recovery-learning-profile-from-time-series-clustering-analysis/  

Kwon, J. B.(2017b). Examining credit recovery experience at a state virtual school. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/examining-credit-recovery-experience-at-a-state-virtual-school/ 

Lin, C. H., Zhang, Y., & Zheng, B. (2017). The roles of learning strategies and motivation in online language learning: A structural equation modeling analysis. Computers & Education, 113, 75-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.05.014 

Lowes, S. (2014, September 8). Learning to learn online: A work in progress in helping students to learn self-regulation. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/learning-to-learn-online-a-work-in-progress-in-helping-students-to-learn-self-regulation/ 

Pace, J., Rice, M., Mellard, D., & Carter, Jr., R. A. (2016). Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in K-12 online learning: An analysis of the iNACOL standards for quality online programs. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/meeting-the-needs-of-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-learning-an-analysis-of-the-inacol-standards-for-quality-online-programs/  

Rice, M. (2018). Virtual school course design: Accommodating students with disabilities. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/virtual-school-course-design-accommodating-students-with-disabilities/ 

Rice, M., Pace, J., Mellard, D. (2016). Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in K-12 online learning: An analysis of the iNACOL standards for quality online teaching. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/meeting-the-needs-of-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-learning-an-analysis-of-the-inacol-standards-for-quality-online-teaching/ 

Rice, M., Mellard, D., Pace, J., & Carter, Jr., R. A. (2016). Meeting the needs of students with disabilities in K-12 online learning: An analysis of the iNACOL standards for quality online courses. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/meeting-the-needs-of-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-learning-an-analysis-of-the-inacol-standards-for-quality-online-courses/

Rosenberg, J. & Ranellucci, J. (2017, May 8). Student motivation in online science courses: A path to spending more time on course and higher achievement. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/student-motivation-in-online-science-courses-a-path-to-spending-more-time-on-course-and-higher-achievement/ 

Wormington, S. (2017, March 8). Is there more than one path to success in math? Patterns and predictors of students’ motivation and achievement in online math courses. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/is-there-more-than-one-path-to-success-in-math-patterns-and-predictors-of-students-motivation-and-achievement-in-online-math-courses/ 

Zhang, Y. & Lin, C. H. (2019). Motivational profiles and their correlates among students in virtual school foreign language courses. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12871

Research Round Up blog series

In our Research Round Up blog series, we explore the practical implications from years of digital learning research. Next month’s topic will be K-12 Special Populations and Motivation. Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

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Kristen DeBruler

Kristen DeBruler

Dr. Kristen DeBruler received her doctorate in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University. She taught in the Master of Arts in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University for three years. Her work focuses on K-12 online learning policy in Michigan and nation wide as well as understanding online learning best practices.

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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.