Student motivation has always been a tough challenge for teachers. But research has shown that there are a few “standards” that remain pretty constant .
1. Plan student-centered activities which actively engage them in their learning, rather than relying on lectures, texts, and lots of dull homework.
2. Make learning relevant to students’ lives – current or future
3. Provide options for projects that will demonstrate mastery of content and skills in different ways, so that students have choices.
4. Provide cooperative learning activities that allow students of varying levels to learn from one another and to contribute toward a common goal together.
The challenge of motivation in eLearning is greater, because there is no physical classroom and no physical contact and communication between teachers and students, and among students themselves. It’s easy for students to feel detached from their learning environment. And that detachment can lead to lack of enthusiasm and procrastination. These are some of the reasons for the higher attrition rates among eLearners .
It takes work to keep students engaged and motivated in an eLearning environment, but here are five strategies that will foster a more motivational environment.
Do It Together
Given the technology and tools at instructors’ disposal, virtual classrooms, in which students can meet, see one another, and hold discussions can help to reduce the feeling of detachment. Group projects can also be assigned, and those small groups may meet using the same technology.
Online study groups can also be formed, and students should be encouraged to participate in them. Another option is to encourage students who know one another and who live in close proximity to sign up for a course together. They then have a built-in cooperative group for studying and projects. And they can keep one another on track.
Relevancy Counts Just as Always
When designing an eLearning course, the importance of relevancy is still critical. Students do not retain concepts and skills that are meaningless to their lives. They need to see how they may use what they are learning, now or in the future, or how it impacts larger society or groups within society.
This can be accomplished with real life case studies; it can be accomplished by sending students out on their own learning missions or research in their own communities. Students in education courses, for example, can observe actual classrooms; they can tutor at-risk, low-income kids in local community centers and prepare a report on those experiences to share with other students in the course. Students in sociology classes can develop survey instruments and implement them with certain societal groups in their own locales. Students in science classes can develop their own experiments to conduct, so that they master and internalize the scientific method. Students in writing classes can identify topics of interest and write blog posts, poetry, or short stories that they submit for publication.
ELearning does not mean that students must sit at a computer, complete assignments, and write essays and papers. They have opportunities to relate their learning to actual experiences. Provide plenty of them.
Provide for Peer Interaction and Evaluations
Feedback is important for students. And instructors provide that feedback with grades. It’s important for students to know how they are doing, and small successes will provide motivation to move forward. If an assignment is poorly done, provide feedback and give advice for improvement. Give the student an opportunity to revise and re- submit. But evaluation can be a community-wide activity too. As long as ground rules are set well in advance, students can present their work within small discussion groups and get suggestions and advice before the work is finalized and submitted for a grade.
These procedures solve many motivational issues that occur when students receive a series of less than stellar grades. It’s discouraging. But, if they know that they are going to have assistance and second chances to get things better, they will likely be more motivated to complete those revisions and earn a better grade.
Vary Difficulty Levels and Provide Options Based Upon Learning Styles
Students will enter an eLearning course with a variety of academic backgrounds and skill levels. Some will be skilled writers; others will not; some will have had previous coursework in the discipline; others will not. If coursework assignments/activities are too difficult, students will drop out. Likewise, if it is too simple or repetitive compared to previous coursework, they will leave.
Establish minimum mastery requirements, and build initial assignments/activities around those. Then, provide expansions of those, so that students can opt for a higher difficulty level that will better challenge them. These types of options are appreciated.
The other thing to keep in mind is the variety of learning styles that exist in every classroom, whether physical or virtual. You will have visual, auditory, and tactile-kinesthetic learners. How can you honor those in the activities and assignments you give? There are learners who prefer to work in a group for the social aspects involved and those who prefer to work alone. Can you provide options that accommodate these preferences? If students can access their own preferred learning styles in their learning, they are more comfortable. And comfort can be a good motivator.
The Importance of Relationships
There is a lot of research that points to the importance of instructor-student relationships at all age levels. Much of that research says that, if students like their instructors, they are far more motivated to perform for them. For older students and adult learners, there is this psychological need not to let someone down, if we like that person. Instructors of eLearning courses need to be human and let their students see them as human. Letting students see parts of your personality and your personal life allow for more trustful relationships and give them the chance to like you.
Make sure that you are not some robotic-type instructor, which can be a danger in e-courses. They need to see your face, your physical expressions, your sense of humor, etc. so that they can personally relate to you. Once that relationship happens, they are far more motivated to perform.
Final Thoughts Motivation has been a topic for psychology and educational researchers for decades. And while there have been lots of results from that research, one thing is certain. What motivates one will not necessarily motivate another, for we humans are at all different points in our “journey” to self-actualization. But these five tips are based on research and should help instructors of eLearning courses to design their courses for maximum motivation on the part of their students.
* Chris Mercer has been engaged with creating software and eLearning tools for students for over ten years. Recently, he’s founded Citatior, a powerful academic formatting tool for students, so that they can focus on learning instead of formatting reference lists.