Self-determination Theory, Online learning, Motivation, Higher Education


Online courses and programs are popular with both students and universities, and the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders highlighted both the need and the importance of high-quality online education options. While this modality is popular, it is not without challenges, including rates of student course and program completion that are 10% to 20% lower than campus counterparts (Seery et al., 2021). Student motivation seems to play a key role in both student success and satisfaction with the online experience (Bawa, 2016). Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation that focuses on the importance of meeting key psychological needs for autonomy, competency, and relatedness to increase both internalized forms of motivation and personal well-being (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2020). SDT suggests that psychological needs must be met for high levels of internal and intrinsic motivation to occur (Ryan & Deci, 2020), but few studies have fully examined the role of needs support and the findings in the current research are mixed (Chen & Jang, 2010; Hsu et al., 2019). This study used a survey to collect data on self-reported perceptions of psychological need support, motivation, and various academic and affective outcomes from students enrolled in fully asynchronous online bachelor's degree programs. Structural equation modeling was used to examine the relationships. In this study, student perceptions of competence were an important predictor of motivation and several affective outcomes, but no predictive relationships were found for academic outcomes such as course grade or GPA. Additionally, perceptions of autonomy were not predictive of motivation, and relatedness was only predictive in a very limited capacity. The findings add to the limited literature on the role of motivation as outlined by SDT in online education. Implications for both theory and practice are discussed.

Completion Date




Committee Chair

Gill, Michele


Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


College of Community Innovation and Education

Degree Program

Curriculum and Instruction








Release Date

December 2024

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Campus-only Access)

Campus Location

Orlando (Main) Campus

Restricted to the UCF community until December 2024; it will then be open access.