Combatting Lack of Motivation in Online Learning

May 1, 2021

Of all the challenges facing students and teachers right now, a lack of motivation in remote learning is one of the most frustrating. 

In a recent survey, 76% of undergraduates and 56% of graduate and professional students pointed to low motivation as their biggest obstacle to online learning success. This lack of motivation stems directly from the many other challenges that online students face, including:

  • A lack of interaction with peers
  • Difficulty learning in a virtual format
  • Distracting home environments
  • A lack of access to appropriate study spaces

While educators can’t solve all of these online learning challenges, you can improve the engagement level of the courses you teach. Effective strategies include:

Opportunities for Collaboration

Disconnectedness is a major contributor to the lack of motivation in students. Fortunately, you can narrow this gap by creating opportunities for students to collaborate. Examples include:

  • Real-time discussions via videoconference
  • Discussion boards with incentives to participate
  • Class assignments where students explain course content to their peers
  • Group presentations

Group work may be harder online in some ways, but the virtual format has its benefits. Students don’t have to travel to collaborate, and it can be easier to find a time when everyone is available. Plus it gives everyone another chance to connect.

Regular Feedback

Online learning motivation isn’t just about establishing a connection with classmates. It’s also about connecting with the teacher and having a sense of progress.

In the classroom, feedback is a natural part of the flow of learning. Students answer questions and share their thoughts, and educators can assess whether they’re on track. Online, feedback is often delayed, compounding students’ sense of isolation.

You can counteract this pattern by creating opportunities where feedback can happen. For example:

  • Scheduling regular one-on-one videoconferences
  • Assigning mini-presentations and offering comments via direct message
  • Commenting proactively when a student shows progress or increased understanding
  • Reaching out via text or another preferred method of communication to ask if students have questions

Diverse Content Delivery

There are many different learning styles in every classroom. It’s much more difficult for online educators to provide a way in for every student. Kinesthetic learners may not have enough hands-on learning to meet their needs, and verbal learners can’t necessarily process their thoughts aloud.

It’s important to offer as many different ways of learning as possible, incorporating multimedia elements such as:

  • Captions or text-based slides in video lectures
  • Summary videos highlighting key points
  • Slide presentations that students can download or view between classes
  • 3D interactive models that students can manipulate

Engaging Presentational Styles

Students aren’t the only ones experiencing a lack of motivation in remote learning. Teachers struggle too.

Yet just like in the classroom, the key to fighting a lack of motivation in students online is to always be the most energetic person in the room. You don’t always have to be “feeling it,” but it’s important to drum up that inspiration and communicate it across the screen.


There’s no such thing as 100% engagement in higher education, especially online. There will always be students who struggle, and even some who drop out. But by adding elements that make online learning more engaging, you can improve the learning experience and show students that their success matters.


Are you an educator looking for turn-key curriculum solutions for your health science course?
Get a free demo