This post has been updated on 31 Jan, 2023.
There’s plenty of distance learning tips, tricks, and tools out there provided by online universities, colleges, and course instructors, but one vital question remains for those of us whose natural habitat is the classroom:
“How do I get my students to actually do the work when I’m not there?”
The answer is motivation.
Student motivation is the make or break of distance learning, especially during events like teacher strikes or school closures. If we can get our students excited to log on and learn each day, productivity and progress will follow.
Here are four effective ways to keep your students excited and motivated from afar.
1. Motivate with goal setting
Goals are a critical component of distance learning. They motivate by letting students know exactly what it is they need to do for learning to occur.
Start by setting whole class goals that mirror the basic expectations of the classroom. These provide a soft entry to individual goal setting, while also maintaining the structure of learning as your students know it. For example:
- Completing a certain amount of assigned activities
- Accessing all posted lesson content and providing a brief summary of understanding.
You can then transition to personal goals designed to inform progress and mastery. Online resources such as Mathletics, Mathseeds and Reading Eggs make this easy with points-based systems, so students can easily decide on quantifiable targets for learning.
For example, student goals might be:
- Achieving a weekly certificate (for 1000 points)
- Completing a set amount of lessons
- Setting a new personal best with points earned
Such specific and attainable goals give students a reason to engage with the distance learning process. They’re no longer feeling lost on the wrong side of the screen, but logging on each day with a clear objective and sense of purpose.
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2. Motivate with rewards and praise
As teachers, we already know that praise and reward are better motivators than punishment. If you celebrate students who engage responsibly with online learning, their peers will follow.
Here are some strategies for praising and rewarding online:
- Create a virtual reward chart or ‘gold star’ system
- Positive feedback messages that use fun videos, GIFs, and images
- Use MS Paint to create simple badges for different student achievements
- Emailing parents with student congratulations. For example, you can also email any certificates that a student receives on Mathletics, Mathseeds or Reading Eggs.
Besides rewarding student achievement, don’t forget to give regular rewards to distance learners who:
- Communicate maturely and respectfully online
- Set new personal bests
- Put in the effort to complete additional activities
- Show significant signs of improvement
For older students, you might even reward online engagement in the form of a mark or grade. This is already done extensively in higher education, and it works as a powerful extrinsic motivator.
Rewards and praises don’t just motivate distance learners. They allow them to feel connected too. A single positive comment lets a student know that their teacher is still invested in their learning, no matter how far away they happen to be.
3. Motivate with meaningful feedback
Any classroom teacher will know the motivating power of timely and thoughtful feedback. The good news is that it’s even easier to deliver quality feedback online. You have the advantage of:
- More time to compose thoughtful and detailed feedback in writing
- The ability to communicate privately with individual students
- Images and videos to support your comments and explanations.
Use these advantages to get creative with the way you deliver your feedback. You could personalise it with a voice recording addressed to an individual student, or attach helpful online resources for students who are having difficulty. If you are using text to deliver your feedback, make sure that you keep the tone warm and personable. Use the student’s name and first-person statements to show that you are thoughtfully engaging with their work (e.g. “I’m really impressed with what you’ve done here”).
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4. Work with parents to motivate students at home
Parents and carers are uniquely placed to motivate their children at home, but you have to let them know how they can help. Communicate with them directly so they are aware of:
- Exactly what work their child should be doing at home
- Workspace or resource requirements for their child’s home learning
- Due dates for assignments so that they can provide reminders where necessary
- Simple activities that they can do to support home learning on a day-to-day basis
- Any signs that their child is disengaging or needing assistance in a particular area
Consider sending this information home as a parent-friendly ‘support package’. See our post on parent support for home learning for further ideas.
Remember: While parents can play a vital role in keeping students motivated, keep your expectations realistic. Parents will not be able to supervise their child for the length of the school day, or coordinate activities that require sophisticated pedagogical strategies.
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