To date, researchers have not yet incorporated some prominent motivation theories to scrutinize and dissect learners’ motivations of online learning, especially in this period of time under the influence of COVID-19. This study aimed to explore 558 Taiwanese university students’ various online learning motivations, and to compare the salient differences before and after the COVID-19 outbreak. A survey named “COVID-19 Online Learning Motivation (COLM)” questionnaire was developed to thoughtfully evaluate the students’ online learning task value, goal orientation, and self-efficacy. The results indicate that, first, the COLM questionnaire was valid and reliable for adequately probing the students’ various online learning motivations. In general, the students expressed substantial increase in agreement for Attainment value, Utility value, Mastery-approach goal, Mastery-avoidance goal, Performance-avoidance goal, and Functional self-efficacy after the COVID-19 outbreak. This study further compared the two groups of students’ scores on the COLM scales based on whether they had actual online learning experiences during the pandemic. The findings suggest that the students who had experienced comprehensive online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic may have held lower expectations regarding the personal relevance and anticipated future practicality of adopting online learning before the pandemic. Interestingly, these preexisting differences on the two scales seemed to diminish after the outbreak of COVID-19, implying that this distressing pandemic which occurred worldwide did indeed have some impacts on how the Taiwanese university students valued the personal relevance and the future expected returns of adopting online learning in higher education.
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