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Keep Students Motivated in a Virtual Learning Environment

September 24, 2020 Sarah Williamson By Sarah Williamson
Student learning from a computer at home

Adjusting to teaching and learning in a virtual environment is not easy as thousands of educators and students are experiencing right now. But when done well, online learning has the potential to increase student achievement. Recent students have found that the secret sauce for ensuring student success with online learning is “motivation.” But what’s the best way to spur student motivation in a virtual environment? 

The “self-determination theory,” a cornerstone of modern motivational psychology finds that people are most deeply engaged, and we do our most creative work, when we believe that we are acting according to our own will in pursuit of goals we find meaningful. Students are no different! The study found that when students felt emotionally connected to what they were learning, and related to the content on a personal level, they were more motivated to learn.  

In fact, many studies have found that encouragement and guidance by teachers, as well as real-time feedback with virtual learning, have a positive effect on student motivation. This can increase their achievement. It’s no surprise that the more a student feels connected with, and acknowledged by, others, the more willing they are to participate and engage.

 

Selecting the right curriculum partner

One of the unique opportunities presented by online learning is the ability to individualize instruction and personalize learning like never before. At its best, online learning engages students with a “learn by doing” approach that challenges students at just the right level. Effective online learning programs should incorporate the following key elements:

  • Ensure consistent standards coverage.
  • Identify what students already know and provide formative assessments.
  • Offer individualized learning plans to address student needs, from those who need more instruction, to those who are ready to move on.
  • Allow student choice in their path, pace and place of learning.  
  • Enable teacher insight into student mastery to drive instruction.

 

Strategies for Successful Virtual Learning Programs

While virtual teaching requires many of the same skills needed to effectively teach in a brick and mortar classroom — academic expertise, teamwork, organization, creativity, and of course a love for learning and for their students — there are strategies that are particularly helpful when trying to reach students whom you may never see face-to-face.

1. Communicate regularly with students. This regular communication and collaboration can take place through a digital messaging center, discussion groups, or even through the feedback provided on teacher-scored activities.

2. Provide opportunities for students to collaborate with peers. The temptation to “game the system” will be minimized if students knows they have to analyze, justify, and/or evaluate the content in a group discussion or for a group project.

3. Set clear expectations. While flexibility is one of the greatest benefits that virtual learning programs can provide, setting clear expectations for participation, pacing, and progress is a key component to ensuring student success.

4. Work with students to set goals. It’s important that teachers and students are on the same page when it comes to setting a reasonable schedule for pace and progress. This allows each student to have ownership of their individualized learning plan and accountability for sticking to the goals that they have set.  

5. Use data-driven digital curriculum for individualized learning.
At its best, digital curriculum delivers personalized content and meets each student at their learning level. This frees up educator time to analyze student progress and performance to determine mastery and understanding. By regularly monitoring and reviewing student data, teachers can guide student learning and provide interventions to struggling students.

The bottom line is that great learning is driven by a great teaching. Successful virtual learning programs serve diverse student needs and offer a wide range of opportunities to learn. The result is a virtual learning environment that engages students, empowers them to learn and continues to motivate them as they master content and success.

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