Distance Learning Environments that Help Motivate Students

Never before has distance learning taken on such importance. As colleges have attempted to re-open on-campus learning during this pandemic, they have realized that the challenges of doing so may be beyond them right now. At best, they have settled on hybrid solutions, and many undergrad and graduate students find themselves enrolled in online coursework for the first time. It’s a new learning environment and one that can create anxiety, challenges of time management, and perhaps most important, motivation to keep up with course content delivery, assignments, and deadlines. 


With distance learning, this challenge of motivation is real.  It’s been a challenge even before this health crisis. And it means that both students and instructors must find ways to keep the momentum and the interest alive and well from start to finish. So, how is this accomplished? Here are some strategies and tips to make that happen.


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Distance Learning Strategies

Leverage Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

The first decision that an online instructor has to make is when it is best to use synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. 

Synchronous activities are valuable because they bring all attendees together in a group environment to interact with one another and feel a part of an actual class. There is a “social” value in using the many technologies for these events. As instructors plan for these activities, they should have a clear agenda that supports discussion, brainstorming ideas among students, and create a “social” atmosphere of giving and taking.

Asynchronous activities are those that students complete on their own, no differently than they would when in a traditional course. These might include assignments for reading, essays, papers, tests, and such. But this does not mean that the instructor simply makes the assignments and then waits for their submissions. There must be systems in place for students and an instructor to have personal communication. Suppose, for example, that a research paper has been assigned. Students must choose topics for these papers, and they may have questions or concerns. For distance learning to be successful, Instructors must be available to approve or make suggestions when students choose topics. This reduces anxiety, helps to validate topic selections, and sets the student off on the right path to complete the assignment.


Focus on Instructor Availability and Cheerleading Role

Students need access to their instructors. They need frequent and personal communication if only to confirm that they are on track and hear encouragement. Communicating using an email address may not be sufficient. Setting up a Facebook and Instagram page for messaging may seem more personal to students. The other option, of course, is an in-house messaging system. The bottom line is this: instructors must be accessible, must respond quickly, and must always encourage students for distance learning to make a difference. 


Give Frequent and Personalized Feedback

One of the most motivating factors for students in any learning environment is frequent and consistent feedback. Students need to know how they are doing. And they need feedback that is more than just a grade. When instructors accompany a grade or score with comments, that feedback is much more personalized. Even if the grade or score is not good, the instructor has the opportunity to provide suggestions for going forward and indicate his belief that the student can achieve success. If a student struggles with college paper writing, for example, an instructor can provide individualized help, if only to point the student in the direction of getting some help.


Integrate Lots of Media 

Research shows that people process media 60,000K faster than they do the printed word. Further, they retain that information better. Zoom lectures, synchronous group activities, and discussions, along with textbooks and other resource readings, are everyday university-level course activities, both on-campus or online. But with distance learning, it is difficult to find many students who honestly say they love listening to lectures and taking notes or reading chapter upon chapter in a textbook. There may be exceptions – a particularly exciting and enthusiastic professor who can engage an audience or a textbook so exquisitely written that it captures attention – but these are rare. 

On the other hand, media provides visual instruction – processed faster, retained better, and, in most instances, far more engaging. And when students are engaged, they are more motivated.


Use Interactivity and Gaming

Educators have long understood that when students are actively involved in their learning, their motivation increases. Lectures, textbooks, and even watching videos are passive activities. 

Dr. Eric Mazur, a physics professor at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, learned this when he first began to teach. He realized that students were becoming numb, if not falling asleep, and not mastering the concepts he was teaching. On a whim, he presented a problem and asked students to discuss the problem and answer with a fellow student. They perked up and began those discussions, coming up with answers that they were excited to propose. It was an eye-opener and caused him to change his teaching style fully. He recounts this experience in a piece for the Harvard Education Department News.

Another newer technology in education is that of gaming. This began at the elementary level several years ago, allowing children to learn and practice simple computer games. Gaming has now moved into digital education and training, with excellent results in terms of focus and motivation. Online instructors should take advantage of this technology – there are now easy software programs, and even beginners can create them. 

Summing It All Up

Both students and instructors are facing educational challenges. Students who are new to distance learning are nervous and anxious; faculty must now prepare instructional activities that engage, motivate, and result in student mastery of course content. Over time, both groups will become more comfortable with this new “normal.” And, in the long-run, both students and teachers may come to see online learning as a far more convenient and efficient alternative to the in-classroom experience.

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About the Author

Donald Fomby
Donald Fomby
He is an academic writer and business section contributor at TopEssayWriting and SupremeDissertations. His body of work consists of articles, essays, and news reports on trending digital marketing topics that aim to help readers with practical advice.

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