How to Keep Your Students Motivated to Learn

Motivation has a powerful influence over learning outcomes, with research suggesting that demotivated students are at higher risk of dropping out. Students have a better chance of succeeding when they are driven and engaged, meaning educators should take steps to help students find and maintain motivation. 

COVID-19 has made this task more challenging, with the rise of distance learning forcing teachers to innovate. However, with the right combination of technology and creativity, educators can still find strategies to motivate online students effectively. We’ll explore a few of those strategies in this article — but first, let’s start by taking a closer look at why motivation matters for children. 

Why is Motivation Important for Students? 

The Center on Education Policy (CEP), an independent advocate for public education and better outcomes within the public school system, has highlighted motivation as a cornerstone of student success. In a recent report, the organization noted that, “motivation can affect how students approach school in general, how they relate to teachers, how much time and effort they devote to their studies, how much support they seek when they’re struggling, how much they attempt to engage or disengage their fellow students from academics, [and] how they perform on assessments,” among other factors. 

Conversely, just as strong motivation can help to fuel academic achievement, the lack of motivation can be a predictor of poor academic outcomes — including dropping out of school. As the CEP report points out, “in a 2006 survey exploring why students dropped out of high school, 70% of dropouts said they were unmotivated.” 

Though correlation does not imply causation, these figures still raise worthwhile questions about the relationship between student motivation and academic outcomes — particularly when viewed through the lens of a 2013 study published in The Journal of College Student Development, which revealed that a student’s motivation for going to college could impact not only his or her grades, but also how likely a student is to to stay enrolled. 

What Motivates a Child to Do Well in School? 

The importance of motivation is clear. What’s less obvious — but no less important for educators — is where that motivation comes from. What motivates kids to do well in school, and how can teachers use that knowledge to help inspire and challenge their students? 

While each child is different, researchers and analysts have noticed certain trends when it comes to students and motivation. For example, many experts note that “setting clear goals” or “setting clear expectations” is important for motivating students successfully. In virtual settings like online classrooms, factors that can help motivate students include: 

  • Easy-to-use learning management systems (LMS)
  • Reasonable academic goals and expectations
  • The ability to track progress over time 

To learn what else motivates children to perform well in school — remotely or otherwise — look to some of the following tips noted here. 

12 Tips for Distance Educators on Motivating Students to Learn Online

Keeping your students engaged and inspired can feel like a challenge on the best of days. In a time when most classes are being taught online, maintaining motivation among your students can be even more challenging. Not only is it harder to communicate in real time, but in addition, the online format of most K-12 classes also presents its own set of obstacles, including technical glitches, non-participation by students, and misunderstandings caused by a lack of verbal or visual cues.  

While it’s undeniable that distance learning is creating challenges for both educators and students, it’s also a unique opportunity for innovation and creativity — especially when it comes to keeping young learners engaged. If you need some suggestions on where to get started, try following these tips on how to motivate students to learn, which highlight 12 effective strategies for motivating online students. 

  1. Integrate audio and video into your course materials wherever practicable. Videos are more dynamic than static images or paragraphs of text, which may help some students stay engaged and retain information.
  2. Encourage students to track news, data, or other results live online. This type of participatory activity can help students feel more connected to (and excited about) the subject matter.
  3. Ask your students for their feedback about what could be improved and what’s working well for them. Students are likely to be more motivated when they feel like their opinions are valued and respected. 
  4. Set clearly defined goals, expectations, and rules. It’s easier to stay motivated and remain focused when there’s a sense of organization and structure. Make sure you establish the scope of the course, ideally providing a detailed syllabus, so that students are clear on what they are responsible for learning. 
  5. Reward students for accomplishments and achievements. Acknowledging a student’s success can inspire him or her to keep striving, especially if an accomplishment leads to a reward. Offering incentives for online students can also help to give students a feeling of recognition, even if they’re not in a traditional classroom setting.
  6. Foster positive and productive relationships with your students. If a student does not believe that you truly care about their success, they will probably not feel motivated to excel in your class. 
  7. Share a syllabus or course overview that students can easily access. The level of detail and complexity depends on what grade you teach. In addition to aiding the student, the syllabus can also help parents and family members understand what is expected academically. 
  8. Offer insightful feedback on essays, homework, and other assignments. Students may feel more motivated when instructors take the time to provide feedback that is personalized, timely, actionable, and clear. Educators can explore best practices on how to provide effective feedback to online students  to help ensure their feedback is well-received and students are able to absorb and run with feedback that sets them up for success. 
  9. Keep your remote learning materials up-to-date at all times. It’s your responsibility to ensure that notifications, bulletins, announcements, calendars, and other posts or threads are up-to-date. If students feel like you don’t care about updating the class app or website, they probably won’t feel motivated to work hard, either.
  10. Use technology to make learning easier — not more difficult. Nothing will demotivate students faster than glitchy, out-of-date, or unsupported technology. Whether you use mobile apps, websites, or other edtech to assign and review coursework, make sure assignments are clearly dated, easy to submit, and tagged with the appropriate subjects or students.
  11. Provide students with both group discussions and one-on-one meetings. Since students learn in different ways, it’s beneficial to incorporate a mix of one-on-one discussions and group discussion sessions into your online coursework. Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime are just a few examples of ways to video chat with students. 
  12. Create a Facebook page for your class. Students are already familiar with using Facebook and will likely be able to easily navigate the page. Facebook pages also make it easy for teachers to post information, share links or videos, tag students, and guide group discussions. Plus, since all comments are automatically dated and organized, it’s easy to see who participated in each discussion and when. 

To learn more strategies for motivation in the classroom (or chatroom), explore educator resources like, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), or, which offers “K-12 resources by teachers, for teachers” online. 

Get Certified to Teach Online with an Accredited Education Degree from National University

If you’re passionate about teaching and want to help shape the minds of tomorrow, consider earning your degree or certificate in education. Through the Sanford College of Education, National University offers more than 50 NCATE-accredited education programs, including the Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE), the Master of Arts in Education (MAE), and the Master of Early Childhood Education (MECE). 

Most NU teacher education programs can be completed 100% online, offering students flexibility and convenience in a way that works with busy schedules. Additionally, many students qualify for financial aid and scholarships

Take the first step toward becoming a teacher, educational counselor, or administrator. Apply to National University today, or contact our admissions office to request more information about your program of choice.

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