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Keeping Learners Motivated in Online Courses


Wed Oct 02 2019

Keeping Learners Motivated in Online Courses

Many working adults sign up for online courses to build their skills in their current profession or develop skills for a new profession they wish to pursue.

These learners might already be working full-time jobs, so online courses for professional development are usually designed with flexible timing; however, learners face challenges beyond time restraints. The two main challenges that this group faces are feeling isolated due to limited contact with other learners and instructors and feeling detached from the lesson. These challenges often cause learners to feel frustrated and demotivated and may lead them to drop out of a course. So, how can designers of online courses address these issues?


Motivate Learners Through Communication

You can encourage communication among the learner, their peers, and the instructor by creating a platform that allows instructor and peer interaction. In an ideal scenario, each course should have a limited number of learners to allow the instructor to give individual attention to each of them. This also makes it easier for learners to interact with each other. This is not possible for larger courses like MOOCs (massive open online courses), though. What can instructors or creators of these courses do?

Share your story. The first step to establishing a relationship with your learners is to create a video where you introduce yourself and the course you are about to teach. This helps bridge the gap that is created in a virtual class. Appearing onscreen for each lesson will let your learners know that you are available to them. Adding personal touches like anecdotes, jokes, and samples of your work will make them feel like you can understand and relate to them. Being available to your learners and being relatable are essential to creating a better learner–instructor relationship.

Encourage peer interaction. To increase peer interaction, it is important for the platform to include chat rooms. Chat rooms allow learners to discuss their thoughts about the lesson and share ideas about the assignments, which reinforces the concepts already covered. Ask your learners to work in groups, creating an opportunity for them to interact with each other and broaden their perspectives about the concepts they’re learning. Another way to increase peer interaction is by asking your learners to review their peers’ assignments. Many courses use peer reviews to expose their learners to different approaches to the same concept.

Tap Into Learners’ Inner Drive

Learner motivation doesn’t only depend upon interaction with peers and instructors. They must understand how the lessons relate to their own lives as well.

Connect to real life. One way to do this is by creating a link between the learner and the lesson. You can do this by drawing a parallel between the lesson and real-life experiences or current events. Depending on the type of course being taught, the lesson could include a real-world scenario that the learner may face or even snippets from news stories that reinforce the concept being discussed.


Give learners control over learning. Another way to strengthen learners’ commitment to the course is to hold them accountable for their success by using self-set goals and self-assessments. It is important for most adult learners to feel like they are in control, so allowing them to set the pace of their own progress will result in higher retention. For things like peer reviews, group discussions, and other group activities, the instructor must not dominate the group but should merely act as a guide through the activity. It is important to note that though individuality and autonomy are important to the learner, these must be balanced with group interaction.

Other ways to motivate learners include fun group or individual assignments or rewards in the form of points or badges given to the learner upon completion of an assignment.

Don’t Forget the Simple Things

Finally, giving the learners a detailed syllabus and a list of required reading is helpful in enabling the learners’ sense of autonomy. All deadlines and the expected time of course completion (if any) should be mentioned prior to the learners’ enrollment. Learners must feel that they are respected as individuals with goals, interests, and lives of their own. Their time must be valued and their efforts acknowledged.

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