The other day I read an interesting post in TechCrunch about how people’s behaviors can be changed in online communities by addressing their psychological needs. The author was discussing a study he conducted that was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study, at-risk individuals were recruited to participate in Facebook groups for HIV prevention. It was found that participants in the intervention group, which addressed core psychological needs, became more actively engaged in the community and were more likely to request HIV testing than those in the control group.
There are lessons in this study that can teach us how to improve online learning and embedded librarianship. In fact, the core psychological components that the study identified are in line with best practices for online teaching. Here they are, along with my thoughts on implications for online learning and embedded librarianship:
The Need to Trust. Trust is key in any learning community, but can be more difficult to achieve in an online community. Sharing personal information increases trust. A best practice in online learning is to have both students and instructors create and share brief bios of themselves on the course page, preferably with pictures. Learning a little bit about each other and being able to put a name to a face go a long way toward developing trust. Librarians who are embedded should be doing the same. If you are embedded, but have no profile on the course page, you may be viewed with distrust (or as a lurker).
The Need to Fit In. Every community has a set of rules or norms for how people should behave. And people inherently like to fit in. It is a best practice in online learning for the course instructor to set the expectations at the beginning of the course for everything from log in requirements to rules for participation in online discussions. The course instructor should also set expectations up front regarding the librarian’s role in the course. For embedded librarianship to be successful, the most effective expectation is that the librarian is a co-teacher, not just a guest.
The Need for Self-Worth. Online learning is largely self-directed, and it has been shown that self-esteem is positively related to a student’s sense of self-efficacy (the key to successful learning). Learners with the highest levels of self-efficacy are the most likely to seek out help and support. So, to foster self-efficacy and self-esteem, online learning communities should be designed with support in mind. Students should be continuously encouraged to seek help from multiple sources: the instructor, the librarian, tutors, IT, scaffolded material, and even each other. And a best practice in online learning is to make support sources easy to find and appropriately located on the course page. Bottom line, students should know you care about them.
The Need to Be Rewarded for Good Behavior. Reinforcing good behavior through reward is a time-honored tradition of classroom management that is deeply rooted in behavioral psychology. Why do so many teachers do it? Because it motivates students. On a cautionary note, it is important to balance the extrinsic with the intrinsic. In online learning, extrinsic rewards include praise, recognition, grades, points or even badges. These are short-term motivators that do change a student’s behavior, but if overdone, become counterproductive. On the other hand, intrinsic rewards have greater impact on long-term motivation. Intrinsic rewards include a sense of choice, a sense of meaningfulness, a sense of competence and a sense of progress.
The ultimate aim in online learning communities is to create an environment that gives students choices in their learning. Choices lead to a sense of meaningfulness, which motivates students to learn. As a result, they achieve a sense of competence and progress. For example, the embedded librarian can play an important role in helping the course instructor design research assignment alternatives that promote a sense of choice and meaningfulness among students.
The Need to Feel Empowered. Sense of empowerment is the greatest predictor of behavioral change, and collaboration is a vital tool for student empowerment. Dr. Ted Panitz describes collaboration as “a philosophy of interaction and personal lifestyle where individuals are responsible for their actions, including learning and respect the abilities and contributions of their peers.” In an online learning community, the embedded librarian can take on the role of technology integration specialist to help the course instructor design collaborative activities that take advantage of all the great collaboration tools out there.