5 Tips to Get Distance Learners Motivated Right Now


There’s plenty of distance teaching 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. If we can get our students excited to log on and learn each day, productivity and progress will follow.

Here are five ways to get your students excited and motivated with distance learning.

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 each week
  • 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. EdTech products such as Mathletics and Readiwriter Spelling 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 per week
  • 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.

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
  • Let your virtual class out early (the timetable is more flexible than ever!)
  • Use MS Paint to create simple badges for different student achievements
  • Emailing parents with student congratulations (tip: you can also email any certificates that a student receives on a program such as Mathletics or Readiwriter Spelling).

Avoid rewarding student achievement exclusively, as this motivates only the top performers in the class. Instead, 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.

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”).


Prepare for a half in/half out class with the Hybrid Teaching Survival Kit


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 posts 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.

Find more tips on communicating effectively with parents here.

Stay connected as a class and motivate each other

Without the company of friends and the classroom buzz, it’s easy for distance learners to feel isolated. This in turn leads to a loss of motivation.

Build a sense of community in your online learning environment to combat this isolation. Try the following strategies:

  • Coordinate online group activities
  • Take the time to chat off-topic. Discuss how everyone is keeping busy and staying healthy at home
  • Make your communication personal. Use names and keep the tone warm and engaging
  • Have a weekly virtual show and tell where students can share their aspects of their home lives and activity
  • Follow up formative assessments with an online peer review
  • Post a brief ‘welcome to class’ video daily, where you greet students and explain the day’s learning objectives
  • Schedule video lessons via Skype or Zoom to bring back the liveliness of a regular classroom environment.

Connecting with their peers and their teacher will give your students the extra motivation that they need to engage with distance learning for an extended period.

The resulting sense of community also plays a vital role in helping students through such an unprecedented time. Amidst the isolating challenges of long-term school closure, your students will know that they are never alone.

Need help motivating your students from a distance?

We’ve got you covered. Check out our article on Avoiding the pitfalls of distance teaching, or explore our range of edtech solutions for mathematics, literacy and science below.


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