This research explores the different types of motivation that inspired students to engage in an online peer-assisted learning (PAL) leader role. An interdisciplinary online PAL pilot programme at a university in the United Kingdom was reviewed to investigate the experience and perceptions of voluntary online PAL leaders. The purpose of the study was to address a paucity in knowledge about the motivations for this role, specifically from an online perspective, and to guide future online PAL leader recruitment.

A thematic analysis of in-depth qualitative semi-structured interviews was used to determine emerging and relevant themes. Three research questions guided the interviews, and findings are presented in response to these questions.

Findings indicate that different types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation were key reasons for engaging in the online PAL leader role. The participants expressed an altruistic and empathic approach towards volunteering. Potential personal benefits motivated their participation, including improved study skills, transferable skills, and the possibility of an award. These motivations fell into two significant themes: the awareness of personal gain and the emergence of a desired version of self.

Recommendations are made for the recruitment and training of online PAL leaders and the logistics of the scheme to ensure it is well advertised, accessible, endorsed by academic staff, and combines synchronous and asynchronous modes. It is hoped that this research will be valuable given the shift to online study and blended learning in response to and as an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic and the value placed on interactive virtual spaces to minimise isolation.