16 November 2021

Written by: Zoë Guzman Martinez, Supervising Editor: Instructional Design

Last year I enrolled in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on an international learning platform, but initially I had my reservations because the marketing material indicated that the pass mark was 80%. My thinking was that either this course had unattainably high standards, or, quite the opposite, and the certificate would lack credibility. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. In another incident, my husband, who is from Mexico, went with me to check my exam results for my undergraduate studies. I was expecting a high five for my 75% aggregate, which was a first-class pass, but he pitied me because, from his perspective, anything under 90% was problematic, and anything under 80% was a fail! These experiences made me realise that the perception of grading systems in not universal, and interpretation depends largely on geographical location. I have heard of similar occurrences in multinational companies, where NPS surveys are done with branches across the globe. “Problematic” branches are red-flagged, when the isolated “poor” results may in fact just be a difference in how that particular culture perceives rating systems. Even though the results are quantitative and appear to be objective and valid, there is a qualitative element that impacts on the interpretation of the findings.

Grades form a significant output in any learning journey, so in Higher Education, where e-learning is becoming more prevalent and students are geographically dispersed, it is crucial to consider the impact that a student’s perception of grades may have on their motivation levels. The ARCS Model of Motivation was developed by John Keller, and it relates to the factors that retain a learner’s motivation during the learning process. Attention is maintained by stimulating students through activities that encourage participation; presenting content using various media; and challenging students to apply their learning to a context. Relevance indicates that students should be encouraged to draw on and build upon previous experience and knowledge. The present value and future usefulness of the learning must be highlighted, and adult learners should be given a degree of autonomy relating to certain choices in the learning process. Confidence should be built in students by facilitating self-growth through activities, feedback, assessment, and the clear communication of prerequisites and learning objectives. Satisfaction is achieved when a student can see the benefits of their learning through the application of their newly acquired knowledge in their environment, as well as the sense of accomplishment that they may feel when they are awarded or praised for their efforts by a learning facilitator. Grades would have a significant impact on the confidence and satisfaction levels of students in a learning experience.

The use of technology in education, especially in adult learning, has meant that often the participants in a learning experience are from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds. It is critical for facilitators (and the creators of content) in any learning environment to be aware that their students may not exist within the same framework of motivation. Seventy-five percent for an assignment may mean something completely different for students from North America, Ireland and South Africa. The great advantage of e-learning is that it dissipates the barriers of time and space to allow for education to have a much broader reach, and learners have the opportunity to interact with peers from around the globe. Tools like rubrics can be used to create a micro-environment of motivation within a learning experience so that learners can realign what they are accustomed to with the parameters of their current learning context. The benefits of e-learning far outweigh any issues that may arise through differing perspectives – these differences are in fact more valuable than they are harmful – but it is important for learners and facilitators to be aware of them, and, where possible, to use learning tools and clear communication to overcome them.