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A qualitative analysis of faculty and student perceptions of effective online class communities using Herzberg's motivator-hygiene factors.


As educational practices shift from traditional synchronous teaching formats to online asynchronous ones, the importance of understanding what is considered effective online teaching practices arises. A key aspect of this online teaching is the sense of community and how these communities develop within the confines of online instruction.

Online communities can be seen as being comprised of two factors: those that sustain the community and those that advance the learning process. Both factors are necessary to build an effective online community. Yet, each factor impacts online communities differently. Utilizing qualitative analysis, the purpose of this study is to present views of both instructors and students within the same class on what factors help sustain an online community and what factors help advance online learning.


Online communities can be established with a variety of objectives and foci. Communities of learning (such as in a class) have more structure with learning as the goal. Communities of practice focus on teaching effective practices while communities of inquiry focus on a shared interest or topic (Marken & Dickinson, 2013).

Communities, whether they are of learning, practice, or inquiry involve key distinct features such as sense of shared purpose, establishment of boundaries defining who is a member and who is not, establishment of rules/policies regarding community behavior, continuous interaction, and a level of trust, respect, and support among community members (Vessely, Bloom, & Sherlock, 2007). Glazer and Wanstreet (2011) suggested that another key distinct feature is that of connectedness with interconnected activities being characteristic of a close interactional environment.

In addition, there are processes found in online communities such as making oneself known, developing an identity within a group, getting to know others, discovering, and contributing to the communication etiquette of the group. The result of application of these procedures is the development of a relationship within the group that, ultimately, leads to a developed community (Cameron, Morgan, Williams, & Kostelecky, 2009).

So, it can be said that online communities do not develop instantly, but rather over time and across discussions. Yoder (2003) described this evolutionary quality of online communities as involving first friendship evolution, then member development through discussion threads and finally camaraderie resulting from long-term discussion engagement.

Online communities are now seen as central to online learning (Calverly & MacDonald, 2002). By directing interactions, online communities are the key means of engaging students. LaRose and Whitten (2000) found that students' involvement in online discussions is statistically linked to their satisfaction in an online course. Shea, Sau Li, and Pickett (2006) suggested that communities play a pivotal role in online learning, while Yuen (2003) suggested that learning communities help students go beyond individual learning by the sharing of ideas among the members, which allows community members to see ideas outside of their normal view.

But, because both instructors and students are involved in an online community, perceptions of what constitutes an effective community may differ given the role each one plays in developing and maintaining the community. Even in the same class, the perceptions of instructors and students may differ. Slagter van Tryon and Bishop (2009) suggested that students use analysis and negotiation to establish a social context. But, they noted that instructors use evaluation to determine the effectiveness of the social context. These differing methods of addressing communities are worth investigating in the aim of ascertaining what factors constitute building a strong online community.

If, indeed, courses involve both sustaining factors (hygiene) and learning enhancing (motivation) factors, then investigating these two factors in online classes would expand how online classes can be developed to further enhance the online course experience. A two-factor model developed by Herzberg (1962, 1965, 1966) was used in this study to determine what sustaining factors (hygiene) and what learning enhancement (motivator) factors are perceived by both the instructor and the students of various online classes.


Herzberg (1962, 1965, 1966) presented a model of corporate employee satisfaction that utilizes two factors: motivators and hygiene. Motivators result in satisfaction when adequately fulfilled, whereas hygiene factors must be present to sustain members. According to Herzberg, these form unique sets of requirements in order for work to be accomplished.

Both of these factors rely on different perspectives. Motivators are associated with achievement, supervisor recognition of achievement, supervisor's empathy and caring, relevant work, and the opportunity for growth. Hygiene factors are associated with supervision practices, policies and administration, and interpersonal relationships. Both are necessary for effective performance but with different roles. A worker will not attempt to improve unless the motivator factors are evident. Conversely, according to Herzberg (1962, 1965, 1966), a worker will not put forth much effort at the job unless the hygiene factors have been met (see Table 1).

The source of the factors also differs between the two factors (DeShields, Kara, & Kaynak, 2005). Motivators are typically intrinsic and therefore are tended to by the individual. Hygiene factors are typically extrinsic as part of the job situation and therefore tended to by the corporation. Despite their difference in source, both are necessary for a company to advance in its field.

Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) work has been used in educational settings as well as in corporate settings. Young and Davis (1983) applied Herzberg's dual factors for public school administrators. DeShields et al. (2005) studied retention of business faculty in higher education using Herzberg's model. Smerek and Peterson (2007) also viewed administrative personnel and examined what motivator factors enhanced job satisfaction of university personnel. Katt and Condly (2009) applied Herzberg's motivation-hygiene model to traditional classroom settings, noting where students perceived hygiene factors were evident and where they perceived motivator factors were evident. From their study, Katt and Condley determined that there was a mixture of both factors leading to students' classroom satisfaction.

Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) model is applicable to online instruction as well as to traditional classroom settings. Online instruction, with its focus on individual students' experiences, relies on both sustaining (hygiene) and learning enhancement (motivator) factors, which are similar to the cornerstone of Herzberg's model. Given the focus of developing learning experiences in a structured form, analyzing online education through Herzberg's model would be beneficial in understanding what makes an effective online community.

Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) hygiene and motivator factors are similar to the factors inherent in online communities. Hygiene factors, with their focus on minimal sustaining requirements, are necessary to sustain a class community. Motivators, with their focus on promoting advancement, are necessary to enrich a class' community. Both are necessary but each one addresses different aspects of a class' sense of community.


In addition to utilizing Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) motivation-hygiene model, the analysis done for this study also involved a coorientation approach. Based on Newcomb's (1953) coorientation model, coorientation assumes that two individuals are associated with an object of communication and that they share their views of the object. The focus of such studies revolves around communication members of the same unit whether it is a class, a conversation, or a relationship. The members, then, compare how they each see events of the phenomenon with the other person in mind.

McLeod and Chaffee (1973) studied coorientation in light of a conceptual model. McLeod and Chaffee posited that the basic data for coorientation research includes the relationship of the persons interacting, in this case instructors and students, their views regarding the shared experience, and the sharing of their respective views.

Educational studies have relied upon coorientation analysis to further develop educational practices. Clark (1971) used coorientation analysis to measure children's responses to what was educational entertainment. Philippe and Seiler (2005) focused on coaching relationships to address how student athletes and their coaches viewed the coaching practices in a collegiate setting. Attamesu, Okigbo, and Schmidt (2007) used coorientation analysis in addressing the effectiveness of problem-based learning. All of these studies used shared relationships as the focal point in viewing what was considered effective learning practices.


We propose the following research questions: What sustaining (hygiene) factors are perceived as useful in establishing effective online educational communities by both instructors and students? What motivator (learning enhancement) factors are perceived as useful in establishing effective online educational communities by both instructors and students?


Participants in this study were instructors and students in online classes taught at a Midwestern college specializing in online instruction. Classes that utilized discussion threads as part of the instruction practices were selected and, therefore, instructors and students from classes across many disciplines were approached to participate.

The survey utilized only open-ended questions and asked both instructors and students in the same class about qualities they both perceived as leading to a strong sense of community. In addition, questions were asked of both instructors and students to describe a time when each perceived that a strong sense of community existed. Demographic questions included the sex of the respondent and when the course was offered. Each group was asked about the length of experience in online classes. Students were asked how many online classes they had taken and instructors were asked how many online classes they had taught.

Instructors were the first to be contacted and they were asked to identify the course they would like to use from prior quarters. The researchers used this information to contact students from those same classes and sections by sending a survey link through the college's internal communication platform. Instructors from nine different classes participated in the project. Within the initial same of nine classes, students from six classes responded, leaving the final sample size of six classes with six instructors and 10 students in total responding to the survey.

From the requests to participate, a mixture of classes and participants were found. The courses that were assessed were: computer applications, business law, visual communication, web development, and college algebra. The number of online classes that students had taken ranged from 1-8, while the number of online classes instructors had taught ranged from 5-11. There were answers from 4 male students and 6 female students. In addition, there were 2 male and 4 female instructors who participated in the study.


The analysis was conducted using two separate approaches. First, analysis was done for each class' instructor and students' responses utilizing Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) motivator (learning enhancement) and hygiene (sustaining) factors. A second approach combined the responses from all of the classes to determine overall motivator and hygiene factors perceived by instructors and then by students regardless of the particular class.

Constant comparative analysis developed by Glaser and Strauss (1967) was used in analyzing the responses. This method involved coding the data and categorizing data into themes. The coded data themes were then compared between the researchers.


For the individual courses' analysis of the results, each course is presented with both students and instructor responses. The responses are presented as either hygiene (sustaining) or motivator (learning enhancement) factors. Individual student and individual instructor responses and where there is agreement between the instructor and the students are given.

The computer applications course had the instructor and students only indicating hygiene (sustaining) factors but no motivational (learning enhancement) factors. Students thought effective online community utilized a relaxed atmosphere, while instructors thought effective communities were formed through accessibility and friendliness. Both the instructor and the students noted that effective online communities were formed through open communication. The instructor wrote that "I feel there is a strong sense of belonging when I get e-mails from students where they 'speak' to me just as they were in the classroom." A student in the same computer applications course wrote that "there was an easy relaxed tone to the course."

The business law course had a mixture of responses for both hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. Students noted that hygiene (sustaining) factors of structure, promptness, and an open environment led to effective online communities. Both the instructor and the students indicated that the motivator (learning enhancement) factor of personalized caring was a key factor in online community development. The instructor for this business law class wrote, "They feel that someone cares about their ideas and opinions." A student in the same class wrote "that you felt the teacher cared if you understood the class." Another student wrote that he/she felt a community was developing when "the instructor is engaging and encourages the student to do well."

The visual communication class had separate responses (no shared views) of both hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. The instructor believed that the hygiene (sustaining) factor of a relaxed environment was very important, while students believed that the hygiene (sustaining) factor of consistency in responses was a key factor. The visual communication instructor wrote that "a consistent presence was necessary." The instructor also noted that valuing the student was a strong motivator factor while the students viewed empathy as one. One student in this visual communication class wrote that "I was able to state my opinion to the class and was able to ask questions without feeling like it was a dumb question."

The web development course, like the visual communication course, had only separate responses (no shared views). Students noted that the hygiene (sustaining) factor of promptness in reply was a key factor in online communities. The instructor noted that "being accessible" was a key factor. In addition, the instructor noted that the motivator (learning enhancement) factor of showing encouragement was another quality contributing to effective online communities. The students noted that promptness was a key factor in developing an effective online community. One student wrote that "[an effective online community] would have an instructor that relies on e-mails as well as returning grades in a timely fashion."

The college algebra course had clear responses only from the instructor. For hygiene (sustaining) factors, the instructor believed that maintaining a positive environment was important for effective online communities. As for motivators (learning enhancement), the instructor thought that showing empathy was an important quality of effective online communities. The college algebra instructor wrote that "good interaction during certain discussions that were more opinion based than fact based" were indicators of a strong online community. Student responses indicated that they felt online algebra classes posed a challenge for establishing a strong community.

The other approach in the analysis of the data involved dividing the responses by groups (instructors only, students only, and where there was agreement among the instructors and students). This approach allowed overall hygiene (sustaining) factors and overall motivator (learning enhancement) factors to be identified.

Instructors indicated a variety of hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. For hygiene (sustaining), instructors noted positive, friendly, and relaxed atmospheres as well as being accessible were important in developing effective online communities. For motivators (learning enhancement), instructors noted that showing empathy and expressing value of the students were effective strategies in developing effective online communities.

Separate student responses revealed another set of hygiene (sustaining) factors. Students saw hygiene (sustaining) factors such as promptness and consistency coupled with a positive attitude in a relaxed environment as key to developing an effective online community. Students, on their own, did not indicate any motivator (learning enhancement) factors.

Instructors and students agreed on other hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. For hygiene (sustaining), both instructors and students viewed openness as a key factor in effective online communities. For motivators (learning enhancement), both instructors and students viewed personalized caring as a key factor in effective online communities.

Figures 1 and 2 present the results of these findings using Venn diagrams for both hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. The diagrams indicate what the students alone thought were hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors, what the instructors alone thought were hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors and what the instructors and the students agreed were hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors.


This study focused on two separate factors that were proposed to be involved in developing an effective online community. The responses of instructors and students in the same class were evaluated using Herzberg's (1962, 1965, 1966) factors of hygiene and motivator.

Herzberg's two factors can be seen as those that sustain a student's involvement (hygiene) and those that enhance learning (motivator). When viewing the results with these two separate, yet necessary factors, an interesting array of insights emerges.

One of the most revealing findings was that, on their own, students did not note any motivator factors (learning enhancement). The student responses were either individual only factors of hygiene (sustaining) or shared factors with their instructors. However, there is research that indicates that students need to feel caring and empathy in order for them to have a sense of satisfaction with an online course (Vessely et al., 2007). Here, the students seemed to focus on the mechanics (or sustaining factors) of being in an online course while not addressing learning enhancement (motivators) factors.

The instructors seemed to present a balance between hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. Many of the instructors noted hygiene or sustaining factors but also noted some key motivator, or enhancing, factors. The instructors clearly saw the importance of encouragement, empathy, and value in establishing an effective online community while maintaining a positive and accessible environment.

Viewing the individual course responses revealed other findings worth noting. Of all the classes, the visual communication class responses had the most balanced responses between hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. In the visual communication class, both the instructor and the students indicated that both hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors were important in establishing effective online communities. However, there were no factors that both the instructor and the students agreed upon.

The college algebra class responses showed just how diversely instructors and students can view a class. The instructor apparently saw his/ her approach as possessing both hygiene (sustaining) and motivator (learning enhancement) factors. Yet, the students indicated that there was no sense of community in the class. There seemed to be a strong sense of disconnect between the instructor and the students as to what constituted a strong online community. This could be due to the nature of the course as this was not evident in the other, nonmathematical, courses.

From these findings, it is possible to conclude that students may not feel a sense of community within their online classes, but rather still focus on hygiene or sustaining factors. This is problematic, because in order to establish a strong sense of community both sustaining factors and factors that enhance learning are necessary. These findings suggest that more work should be done by instructors to utilize both sustaining (hygiene) and enhancing factors (motivator) in their online courses. By utilizing both sustaining (hygiene) and learning enhancement (motivator) factors, instructors may further engage students and leave the students with greater satisfaction in their online courses. And with greater satisfaction may come more effective learning.

Rebecca Costello

Rasmussen College

S. A. Welch

University of Wisconsin-Whitewater


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* Rebecca Costello, Instructional Designer II, Rasmussen College. Telephone: (630) 210-3464. E-mail:

Herzberg's Motivation/Hygiene Factors Adapted to Online Instruction

Learning Enhancement       Sustaining (Hygiene)

Achievement              Administration
Grades, evaluation       "adequacy or inadequacy"
                           (Herzberg, 1966 p.
                           197) of environment
Recognition of
  achievement by
Course content           Supervision
Variety of assignments   Acceptable interaction
                           with instructor
Responsibility           Interpersonal relations
Independent              Reports of specific
  responsibility of        interactions with
  student                  others in class
Advancement              Working conditions
An actual "change in a   Physical qualities of
  person's status or       environment
  position" Herzberg,      (discussion formats,
  1966 p. 195              etc.)
Learning new skill or
  the opening of a
  "previously closed
  door" (Herzberg,
  1966, p. 194)

Source: Adapted from Herzberg (1966).
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Author:Costello, Rebecca; Welch, S.A.
Publication:Quarterly Review of Distance Education
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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