Following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic by the WHO in March 2020, several countries in the world had to switch to the “online” mode of conducting instruction in schools and universities. This study aims to compare the motivational regulation of university students in Austria and Germany before and after the transition to online learning during the COVID-19 crisis and to find explanations for the quantity and quality of motivational regulation. The study compares two sample groups: one before online learning (N=730) and the other during online intervention (N=1835). Using data from an online survey designed on the basis of the self-determination theory (SDT, Ryan & Deci, 2017), the study findings primarily indicate that intrinsic motivation in online learning is significantly lower, and extrinsic forms of motivation were higher than in the scenario before the COVID-19 crisis.
SDT assumes that the satisfaction or frustration of basic needs (autonomy, competence and social relatedness) is associated with motivational regulation. In distance learning, the satisfaction of competence and social relatedness is significantly lower. Accordingly, the frustration of basic needs is higher for competence and social relatedness.
In a structural equation model the intrinsic and identified regulation can be explained in particular by the satisfaction of autonomy (ß=.46 / ß=.68) and competence (ß=.32 / ß=.22). Social relatedness does not prove to be a predictor of motivational regulation styles in distance learning. Only the satisfaction of competence turns out to be relevant for explaining introjected and external regulation (ß=-.25 / ß=.14).
In summary, the results show that motivation and basic needs can change relatively quickly due to external influences such as the Covid crisis. The major future challenge for the design of learning environments in distance learning is to support needs satisfaction.