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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Why Sociocognitive Conflict Is Good: The Best Ways to Use Discussions and Social Media for Motivation and Engagement

Collaborative learning can be very motivating because it helps reinforce social needs (Maslow) and needs for affiliation (McClelland). However, there are challenges in developing collaborative discussions using online courses and/or social media, for several reasons.


Engagement is a complex concept, and for learners to participate in a sustained sense, it is necessary to satisfy several conditions:

•    Have a positive feeling about participating or performing

•    Be willing to take risks and invest one's cognitive efforts in thinking and learning

•    Respect other learners while actively participating

Some ways in which collaborative discussions in online courses and in social media could actually be counter-productive for motivation and engagement include the following:

1.    Bad discussion board prompts may not encourage working together

2.    Prompts are too narrow, and do not include the incorporation of personal experience, prior learning, and/or opinion

3.    Social media can be too ephemeral (Twitter), and tends toward synchronous communication, which may exclude learners who do not have connectivity at the same time

4.    Social media can be distracting if the media / prompts do not tie closely to the course outcomes and learning objectives

5.    Learners may have differing levels of competency in developing media (photos, videos, audio), which can be discouraging to those who are at either end of the spectrum (highly advanced, or newbie).
motivation and trying a new identity - susan smith nash - austin, texas
Try a new identity: conflict gives you a chance to think from multiple perspectives.
Effective strategies:

•    Implement distributed leadership: include learner-guided activities such as discussion forum activities or social media postings that encourage individuals to take a position and then listen to their other classmates in order to engage in a debate (positive sociocognitive conflict)

•    Encourage energizing, productive sociocognitive conflict by posting prompts that encourage diverse opinions and sharing of insights (Johnson & Johnson, 2009)
•    Tie the prompts and the activities to a specific activity, challenge, current event, or ongoing project (Paris & Turner, 1994)
•    Minimize frustration by building in positive feedback for risk-taking, and for modifying / mediating output to align with abilities and a negotiated final product / outcome


Perhaps one of the most interesting findings is that conflict should be sought, rather than avoided in order to heighten engagement and motivation.  Of course, this is not referring to destructive or self-concept-damaging conflict.

Instead, it refers to socio-cognitive conflict that encourages the sharing of ideas, and lively, engaged, and emotionally compelling posts.  Thus, the individuals find themselves caring about what they’re doing – emotions / affects are triggered – and they then take ownership in the position they’ve taken, and go to some length to find ways to post supporting information.


Graesser, A. C., & D'Mello, S. (2012). Emotions during the learning of difficult material. in B. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation: Vol. 57 (pp. 183-225). New York: NY: Academic Press.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2009). Energizing learning: The instructional power of conflict. Educational Researcher, 38 (37-51).

Paris, S., & Turner, J. (1994) Situated motivation. in P. Pintrich, D. Brown, & C. Weinstein, Eds. Student Motivation, Cognition, and Learning: Essays in Honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie. (pp. 213-237). Hillsdale, NJ: Earlbaum.

Wu, X., Anderson, R. C., Kim, N.J., Miller, B. (2013) Enhancing motivation and engagement through collaborative discussions. Journal of Educational Psychology: 105: 3, 623-632.

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