Motivation Matters


According to Foundations of Educational Theory for Online Learning, an imperative part of the effectiveness of online learning is motivation. Students taking online classes absolutely need motivation to learn.
To incorporate motivation in online education, it’s important to understand the motivation within a students learning style, the motivation during active learning, and how to use metacognition to finesse motivation.

Motivation Within the Student

Intrinsic Motivation– is driven from within the learner. Technically, it refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. For example, a student takes an online class in psychology because they are personally interested in learning psychology.

What enhances intrinsic motivation in students?

  • Challenge – Students being able to challenge themselves and accomplish new tasks.
  • Control – Having choice over what students learn.
  • Cooperation – Being able to work with and help others.
  • Recognition – Getting meaningful, positive recognition for their work.

Extrinsic Motivation – is instructor and performance driven. In other words, behaviors that are driven to order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments. For example, a student takes an online class in business based on obtaining a higher salary after graduation rather than having a personal interest in business.

According to this article, online courses should focus on mainly using intrinsic motivation strategies, and less of extrinsic motivation strategies. Why not use extrinsic motivation ?

  • It’s not sustainable – As soon as the the punishment or reward is withdrawn, the motivation disappears.
  • Diminishing returns – If the punishment or rewards stay at the same levels, motivation slowly drops off. To get the same motivation next time, it requires a bigger reward.
  • It hurts intrinsic motivation – Punishing or rewarding people for doing something removes their own innate desire to do it on their own. From now on you must punish/reward every time to get them to do it.

Motivation During Learning

There are two places of motivation within students; however, what about motivating students during learning?

Dr. John Keller, author of “Motivational Design for Learning and Performance” created a motivational design process called the “ARCS model”  designed to promote and sustain motivation during the learning process. The ARCS Model stands for:

  • Attention– Capture the student’s attention at the start of the lesson and maintain it throughout the lesson. An online course must include include an activity at the start of the learning session to connect with the learners.
  • Relevance -Inform students that the lesson is important, and how it can benefit them. An example, how they can use what they learn in real-life situations. This strategy helps to contextualize the learning and make it more meaningful, thereby maintaining interest throughout the learning session.
  • Confidence – Design for an online course to sequence from simple to complex, or known to unknown, and use a competency-based approach where students are given the opportunity to use different strategies to complete the lesson. Inform students of the lesson outcome and provide ongoing encouragement to complete the lesson.
  • Satisfaction – Provide feedback to students on their performance. Students like to know how they are doing, and they like to contextualize what they are learning by applying the information in real life.


As well as motivation within and during learning, it is also important to encourage students to use their metacognitive skills to help in the learning process. Metacognition is the student’s ability to be aware of his or her cognitive capabilities and use these capabilities to learn. When learning online, students should be given the opportunity to reflect on what they are learning, collaborate with other learners, and check their progress. Self-check questions and exercises with feedback throughout a lesson are good strategies to allow students to check how they are doing, so that they can use their metacognitive skills to adjust their learning approach if necessary.

In conclusion, motivation matters. Taking a students motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, and blending in aspects of the ARCS model, while adding in areas of metacognition, will sustain an online students motivation during online learning.