5 tips to keep online students motivated

Taking steps to improve online students' motivation in the classroom can yield higher levels of engagement, interest, and success

Key points:

  • Educators must support efforts that boost online student motivation
  • Peer mentors, change of scenery, and spending time with students are important for online students

A student’s motivation in school is a key driver of their academic success. Yet, the demanding nature of high school classes, mixed with a teenager’s natural craving for independence and individual identity, can stand in the way of that motivation. COVID-19 took a toll on student motivation, and 80 percent of educators are still feeling the effects. Following the rapid and sudden shift to online learning, parents and educators remain concerned about keeping online students motivated and engaged. 

As we move past the pandemic and rethink the role of online education, it’s vital to education reform that teachers remain focused on fostering student motivation.

Fortunately, online educators have been addressing this concern for years and have learned how to instill motivation among their students–even when not in a physical classroom. Here are my top tips to help educators foster motivation among students.

1. Take the time to get to know your students

It can be highly beneficial for educators to engage with their online students about their lives outside of school by asking about what they enjoy doing in their free time, their goals beyond school, and challenges that are consuming their time and energy. 

When students feel appreciated for who they are outside of the classroom, it creates a safe learning environment and motivates them to work harder. Praise and positive feedback tends to carry more weight when coming from someone who knows and respects students as individuals. Getting to know students better can also provide educators with insight into the best learning style for students, and allows them to draw connections between students’ personal lives and what they’re learning in school.

2. Encourage online students to take time for self-care and mental health 

There is a direct correlation between mental health and academic performance — students with strong mental health have higher levels of self-esteem and motivation to achieve their educational goals. To foster strong mental health, educators can teach time-management skills that help students set aside time for self-care. 

A key feature of Penn Foster’s approach is the ability for students to learn on their own time and create their own schedules. While this is one of the major benefits of online learning, students can struggle staying on task when faced with too much flexibility. That’s why we encourage students to prioritize their work, make to-do lists, and keep track of all due dates. Ultimately, having an organized schedule and goals will help ease stress and allow students more time to recharge. 

3. Encourage students to change their scenery

Sitting at a desk all day can become dull and tiring. To renew interest in the subject matter, encourage your online students to take their coursework elsewhere. Changing work settings has been shown to drive productivity and increase engagement–giving the mind a novelty-based boost and moving students away from distractions. Studies show that taking time away from work, even just a quick five-minute walk outside, can work wonders for students’ mental health. A switch of environment can be just what students need to regain inspiration and stay motivated.  

4. Leverage former students and peers as motivators

Allowing former and current online students to inspire their peers can be hugely beneficial because they have many experiences and goals in common. Mentorship programs have shown significant impacts on the success of students; they can increase academic performance, improve attitudes about school, decrease high school dropout rates, and build self-esteem. Instructors can nurture these connections by hosting Q&A sessions with graduates, connecting students individually with graduates who faced similar challenges, and maintaining an open-door policy with current students and graduates alike.

5. Set goals and celebrate achievements

For many online students, encouragement is the best form of motivation. Rewarding effort and success publicly, giving verbal praise for a job well done, reaching out to a student’s parent or guardian with positive feedback, and sharing exemplary work with the class are a few different ways to celebrate your students’ victories. Research shows that celebrating student achievement doesn’t just make students feel good, but also improves memory, learning, motivation, and other cognitive functions.

Some students, however, may be more intrinsically motivated. In this case, it can be especially valuable to practice self-reflection, determine their own strengths and weaknesses, and set realistic performance goals that fit with their learning style. In fact, students perform better academically when they feel in control of their education. When implemented well, goal-setting can have a significant, positive influence on student motivation and academic achievement. 

By taking some of these steps to improve student motivation in the classroom, educators will see higher levels of engagement, interest, and success among students. Motivation comes in many forms, so it’s best to try different methods and see which work best for your students. As we consider the future of online learning, it’s critical that we keep our students motivated and hungry to learn.

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eSchool Media Contributors