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Exploring Self-directed Learning Among Engineering Undergraduates in the Extensive Online Instruction Environment During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Student Engagement, Socioemotional Needs, and Social Support During Pandemic

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Qin Liu University of Toronto

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Dr. Qin Liu is Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, University of Toronto, Canada. Her research interests include engineering students' competency development, learning assessment and career trajectories, and equity, diversity and inclusion issues in engineering education.

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Juliette Sweeney University of Toronto

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Juliette Sweeney is a doctoral student in the Engineering Education Collaboration program at the University of Toronto. Her research interests focus on diversity in graduate engineering programs with a focus on gender. She is also interested in graduate employment outcomes and the impact of online learning environments on student socialization.

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Greg Evans University of Toronto Orcid 16x16

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GREG EVANS PhD, P.Eng, FCEA, FAAAS is the Director of the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education and Practice (ISTEP), Director of the Collaborative Specialization in Engineering Education, a 3M national Teaching Fellow, and a member of the University of Toronto President’s Teaching Academy. He has been learning and teaching engineering for several decades as a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto. His contributions to teaching have been recognised through the 2015 Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations Award, the 2014 Allan Blizzard Award for collaborative teaching, the 2013 Northrop Frye Award for integrating research and teaching, the 2010 Engineers Canada Medal for Distinction in Engineering Education. Greg is also the Director of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research whose research on air pollution been recognised both nationally and internationally.

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented academic disruptions to postsecondary education, including engineering education. A considerable decrease in student motivation became a major issue for online learning during the pandemic. This paper attempts to address these questions: How did the online instruction environment affect engineering students’ motivation and self-directed learning? How did these changes, in turn, affect their learning outcomes? We used survey data collected from a large Canadian engineering school and conceptualized self-directed learning from a social cognitive perspective to address these questions. Our findings revealed that students’ self-directed learning capabilities mediated the effects of learning environment factors on estimated grades and perceived gains in competency development; and student motivation had both direct and indirect effects on these learning outcomes. In their comments, students ascribed lack of motivation to multiple aspects of the online learning environment and felt that decreased motivation affected their learning. Our analysis demonstrated the significant role of student motivation in an online environment and suggested that the decrease in motivation became a major affective barrier to learning. Thus, the extensive online instruction during the pandemic offered both challenges and opportunities for producing self-directed learners. We recommend that engineering schools implement more interventions to help engineering students enhance their self-directed learning capabilities.

Liu, Q., & Sweeney, J., & Evans, G. (2021, July), Exploring Self-directed Learning Among Engineering Undergraduates in the Extensive Online Instruction Environment During the COVID-19 Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37145

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