3 Ways Online Learning Should Motivate and Engage Students

July 11, 2019
Two girls looking at laptop

This is the third blog in a series where we will explore excellence in online curriculum for secondary education and what to consider when partnering with an online learning provider.

Now that we’ve evaluated the rigor of a curriculum, it’s still important to determine whether the content keeps students engaged and motivated. Responding to the needs of struggling students with immediately available, embedded scaffolds and supports is one way an effective curriculum can help struggling students learn a skill or concept to help them master grade-level coursework, but there are also other considerations to maximize student engagement.

With digital curriculum use on the rise, administrators are facing the challenge of incorporating online curriculum that builds and sustains student motivation in order to avoid disengagement as students move into middle school and high school. One way to evaluate the curriculum is to consider the following four elements of an effective digital curriculum that have the potential to motivate students:

  • Autonomy: Students need to have a degree of control over what needs to happen and how it can be done.
  • Competence: Positive feedback increases students’ intrinsic motivation and the feeling that they have the ability to be successful.
  • Relevance: Students must see work as interesting or valuable to them and useful to their present lives and/or hopes and dreams for the future.


Autonomy: Supporting Self-Directed Learning

Students value having a measure of control over their own education so they can choose the path toward success that best suits their needs. Researchers that believe cognitive autonomy effectively develops critical thinking, or having a cognitive choice, such as students discussing different approaches to solving a problem, debating ideas freely and evaluating their own progress. With the right scaffolding in place, students can become independent problem solvers and take more ownership in determining the path of learning that works best for them.

Competence: Providing Meaningful Feedback

When students believe in their ability to be successful, they have more motivation to become invested in their learning and take ownership of how they learn. Formative assessment tools create a meaningful feedback loop. Self-direction and evaluation promote the metacognition skills that are critical for becoming confident, independent problem solvers in and out of the classroom. Ideally, online curriculum incorporates easily accessible, adaptive scaffolding tools that help to engage students with rigorous content, including:

  • Text-to-speech voiceovers. This is particularly helpful for ELL students and struggling readers.
  • Vocabulary rollovers. Students can roll the cursor over a word they need defined without losing their place in the text.
  • Links. Students can click on a hypertext link for additional information and to build connections between ideas.
  • Connections between pages. Students can easily jump back to previously presented information for review and clarification, and then click back to the present lesson.
  • Graphic organizers. Visual representations of content help to organize information in a different format, which can be helpful for struggling readers. Students can complete graphic organizers as a way of organizing information, taking notes, and synthesizing information from multiple sources.
  • Presentation of information through multiple modes. These modes may include text, video, interactive activities that let students learn through discovery, confirmation, and practice.


Relevance: Engaging Students in Learning

“What does this have to do with real life?” It’s no surprise that relevance and intrinsic motivation are interconnected and a key to engaging students in coursework. Using real-world examples that students can relate to helps establish relevance, as well as draw students in and engage them with the content. Students are willing to work hard when they can connect learning activities to topics they care about, such as community, friends, family, school activities, movies, music, or social issues they’re invested in.

Learn more about how Apex Learning can help motivate and engage your students.


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