Advice for keeping online learners motivated

With the help of modern technology, education has become increasingly digitalised over the past couple of decades.

But until the outbreak of Covid-19 at the start of 2020, learners and educators were always able to rely on face-to-face contact to bridge the gaps that digital technology couldn’t quite cover.

Since lockdown began in March, UK teaching staff and their students are now more dependent on technology than ever. With students and pupils returning to their education in September and plans not yet finalised for them to safely go back to the classroom, what steps can you take to ensure your learners remain motivated and inspired enough to carry on online learning from home? 

Male university student on computer at desk studying from home

Organise timely feedback sessions

In-person learning provides students the opportunity to ask questions and gives tutors the opportunity to give feedback on work – and arranging one-to-one feedback sessions through video calling software like Skype or Microsoft Teams is a great way to continue this. 

Ensure these sessions take place regularly, as it gives learners the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns and receive feedback from you in a way that’s similar to how they may approach you at the end of a lecture or lesson.

If a learner doesn’t hear from their teacher for a couple of months when they are used to being able to talk to them at least once a week, it is easy for them to lose motivation for the subject or course.

Jamie Russell is a student from the University of Northampton who undertook a placement with the University College Absalon in Roskilde, Denmark. Jamie stayed in Denmark after the Covid-19 outbreak to complete his year abroad remotely.

He believes regular contact with tutors has been really useful during this time: “Our lecturers are in constant contact with us and we usually have four to six online meetings per week, to check our progress and answer any questions and concerns.”

Include a variety of educational methods

No two learners are the same. Each student or pupil will have a different cognitive style and being in a real-life classroom gives teachers the chance to provide a range of educational activities that cater for everyone. But online learning makes this a little trickier.

Organise a quiz or ask learners to summarise what they’ve learned during the lesson in a creative way.

Every online lesson you conduct should include a presentation covering the core points, materials for students to take away with them and revisit in their own time (this could be a YouTube channel or a Google Drive with resources you’ve created yourself), as well as some kind of imagery or video, in order to support those who learn in more visual ways.

As you would with any ‘regular’ lesson, include 10-15 minutes at the end of each online session for students to ask any questions and get clarification on anything they are unsure of.

Interactivity is key

Including an interactive element in online learning can play a large part in sustaining engagement among your learners. One way to do this is a seminar-style video call, which would provide space for students to discuss what was covered in the main online lesson among themselves, with some support and guidance from your side when they need it. 

If you don’t have time to facilitate a live session, you could create a discussion board using a platform like Jamboard. This means the discussion can take place without the need for everyone to be available at the same time and that the board is there for students to return to during revision or coursework.

Interactive activities don’t just have to be discussion sessions! You could organise a quiz or ask learners to summarise what they’ve learned during the lesson in a creative way, Bredon Hill Academy staff and project partners during their first project meetingperhaps through a doodle or in a one-word answer.

Anne Amzallag, Head of French and International Lead at Bredon Hill Academy, said: "We have set online challenges, like photographing things in their gardens, recreating Austrian-born Gustav Klimt’s ‘Tree of Life’ as well as contributing to a digital rainbow for hope.

"Participation has been wonderful; pupils have been ever so creative and enjoyed working collaboratively, thanks to modern technology!"

Avoid technical issues with planning and organisation

Jamie Russell explained how his tutors encountered some issues teaching remotely due to the nature of the course: “Online learning has presented some challenges because our course is based on aesthetics – dance, drama, music and art. Having a lecture on music when we have connection issues and the sound lags when people are playing instruments is tricky!”

Although remote teaching is a new venture for a lot of educators and there will be lots of times where problems can’t be helped, you can still make sure that to avoid a lot of common mistakes through advanced planning.

Test your WiFi connectivity, sound and image quality before each online class and ensure links to any materials and resources you are signposting to are working properly. Getting the basics right will keep learners enthusiastic and engaged.

Female school pupil at desk in bedroom learning at home writing in notebook with laptop headphones on

Allow students to have autonomy

Giving students autonomy can take a few different forms. You could let your students have a say in what is covered in class and how its covered, perhaps through asking your learners for their feedback on what they feel is working well and what isn’t while they are learning from home, and adjusting your teaching methods according to their thoughts.

Another great way of giving people control over their home learning is goal-setting. If possible, work with each learner individually at the start of the course to set out measurable, achievable goals and support them in working towards these.

Creating a calendar of assignments and a schedule of materials that need to be studied for the course is a flexible way of giving learners autonomy – as it gives them the opportunity to schedule their studies and manage their workload in a way that is good for them and fits their routine, as some of them may be juggling other responsibilities on top of learning from home.

With it still unclear exactly when learners are going to be able to return to their classrooms or learning centres, it’s time to get creative and innovative with the way we use technology to engage with them and ensure they’re getting the best of their education in the meantime.

Do you have any advice for teachers or educators for keeping students and pupils motivated while learning from home? Fill out our top tips webform and let us know!