10 ways to motivate online learners (Covid series: 6 of 15)
Motivation to learn is often divided into extrinsic and intrinsic categories.
Extrinsic motivation might be the qualification you get at the end of the course and the status or pride this gives, an improved salary, or the fear of falling behind compared to your peers.
Intrinsic motivation is the desire to learn that comes from within you. Learners often have a deep need to understand the topics they choose to study, they may feel that study and self-improvement is ethically or morally important, or they might have a real curiosity about the subject and feel that it’s more like play than hard work.
Online learners often have a good deal of intrinsic motivation, and they move forward happily without external validation. But even the best, most engaging course can present difficulties or contain dull patches. The course designer’s task is to help learners through these tricky patches.
With that in mind, here are some tips that aim to encourage intrinsic motivation.
- Explain the objectives
A clear statement of what the course contains will help learners get a picture of how it’s structured and demonstrates that the end is already in sight.
- Explain the benefits
Spell out what what learners will be able to do once they’ve completed the course, and why that’s good. Benefits might be the acquisition of new skills or knowledge, but also new ways of thinking or approaches to problems.
- Vary the content
There’s not much more discouraging than a wall of text. Online learning offers amazing scope for graphics, video, animation, and audio. Even better, you can make it fun! Quizzes, games and challenges all keep the interest up.
- Make learning social
In online learning, this has traditionally meant forums and the occasional chat room, but in reality there are many more possibilities. Participants can learn from their peers, teach back (repeat lessons to demonstrate understanding), work with mentors and share resources.
- Tailor learning to individuals
The online learning sector has only just started exploring the possibilities of personalised learning. But it makes sense and can be a great motivator since learners focus only on topics that are relevant to them.
- Divide the content into manageable chunks
Learners’ ability to focus and concentrate varies, but eventually everybody suffers from what the experts call “vigilance decrement” (loss of focus, to ordinary people). It makes sense to break up content into logical chunks, allowing learners to take short (or indeed long) breaks in between.
- Provide teasers and intriguing questions
The publishing and film world has understood the value of teasers for years. Snippets of content at the start of a course or at the opening of each topic can provoke curiosity. Intriguing questions, paradoxes and anecdotes can equally keep somebody engaged as they seek answers or resolution in your content.
- Give plenty of feedback
Feedback is a staple of classroom teaching, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer it online too. Try summarising what learners have just achieved to give them a sense of pride. Congratulate them if they’ve just done well on a test or quiz. Provide hints if it looks like they’re struggling with a question.
- Show worked examples
The whole idea behind traditional lecturing is to allow learners to observe how somebody who’s mastered a subject deals with a problem. Although at Coracle we believe in blending online and offline learning, this is something that can partly be transferred to online.
- Make it fun!
One that’s easily forgotten in our haste to provide concise and precise learning. But fun turns hard work into play and allows learners to get into the groove until they’re barely aware they’re studying. Games, jokes (depending on your audience, of course), stories and competitions with peers are all great ideas.
This post is an update of the original from Coracle posted on 9th October 2014.