As the COVID-19 pandemic led to sudden school closures, students across the country suddenly found themselves learning remotely. While some newly-minted online students transitioned with relative ease, others struggled to stay motivated, a situation that can get more challenging with time.

Finding ways to stay focused and dedicated is crucial for online students. Otherwise, they may fall behind or see their performance decline. Luckily, by understanding the reasons why motivation can be challenging and embracing the right approaches, it’s possible to overcome many of the difficulties. If your student is now taking courses online or may do so in the near future, here’s what you need to know.

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Why Online Students Struggle to Stay Motivated

Traditional classroom-based learning often creates a few sources of motivation. Students see their teachers regularly, often receiving feedback about their performance directly. There’s a degree of one-on-one interaction that may be lacking with online platforms.

Plus, there’s significant outward pressure to remain accountable. Professors set clear expectations regarding participation and performance. Students who fail to meet them have to deal with any fall out in-person. Similarly, if there is group work, the same situation occurs with their fellow students.

It may also be harder to get help when it’s needed. Many forms of online instruction are, to a degree, asynchronous. Students and professors can log in whenever it’s convenient instead of gathering in a classroom at a specific time. This creates a communication disconnect, leaving students waiting for replies to emails or posts on message boards instead of receiving immediate responses.

The trick is, virtual college and high school is a very different paradigm. The lack of face-to-face contact may hinder accountability and open communication, causing students to struggle or fall behind. When social interactions diminish, a student may experience mental health challenges as well, including depression. This may sap their motivation further.

Plus, adjusting to the asynchronous approach isn’t always easy, causing some students to lose focus or procrastinate. Once behind, catching up can seem especially daunting, and some students may choose to give up instead of pressing ahead.

Luckily, many of those issues can be counteracted, or at least managed. With a bit of effort, it’s possible to make it happen.

Finding ways to stay focused and dedicated is crucial for online students. If you're taking courses online, here are tips for keeping your motivation high.

5 Tips to Keep Online Students Motivated

Ultimately, all of the factors above can make it particularly hard for online students to stay motivated. However, that doesn’t mean the situation can’t be corrected. By taking the right steps, it’s possible to recapture their motivation. Here are five tips to keep online students motivated that are worth exploring.

student success

1. Create a Schedule

The traditional high school and college experience involve a set schedule. Students head to classes at specific times on certain days, giving them a sense of structure and defining attendance expectations by default.

Once the paradigm shifts and they become online students, there’s more flexibility. For some, it’s the increased autonomy that causes challenges when it comes to participation.

The easiest way to overcome the situation is for students to create a set schedule for their coursework. Students can begin by blocking out time each day based on how long they would typically be in class. For example, if a student would usually have hour-long biology lectures three days a week, then they should block out one hour, such as 10:00 am to 11:00 am, for biology on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (or something similar).

During the allocated time, your student would focus on materials and assignments associated with that class. This mimics the traditional experience, creating a sense of structure.

Parents also need to do their part if their student is learning from home. When class time starts, parents have to give their student room to focus. Don’t interrupt them for anything less than a genuine emergency, and don’t ask them to pause to handle other tasks, like chores. If you do, you are disrupting their routine and also sending the message (incidentally) that what they are doing isn’t important.

Instead, respect their class time completely. Treat it as if they are in a physical classroom with others. That way, you can support their routine indirectly, increasing the odds that they’ll stay focused.

staying focused at school

2. Improve the Technology

Many students didn’t initially intend to learn entirely online. As a result, they might not have the ideal technology for that task. Subpar internet speeds, slow computers, less-than-ideal software, and similar issues can make being an online student incredibly challenging. As technical problems continue to mount, preventing them from being productive, frustration builds, and motivation falls.

Avoiding these issues can make a difference. Spend some time evaluating the technology at your student’s disposal. If it isn’t ideal for remote learning, explore potential changes or upgrades that could help. By improving the online experience, they may feel more confident and capable, allowing their motivation to rise.

If the technical issues stem from school-provided portals or similar resources that come from the college, encourage your student to reach out for assistance. Along with contacting technical support, they might want to speak with other students. Their classmates may have experienced the same issues, and they may know how to fix them (or, at least, a reasonable workaround).

3. Embrace Opportunities for Interaction

While there are many pros and cons of virtual college, one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of interaction. Students don’t have as many chances to collaborate with their classmates or speak with their professors. Not only does this hinder the social component of the college experience, but it can also make overcoming obstacles harder.

Many students learn from one another while in school. They ask each other questions, join study groups, or work on group projects. Then, if they are truly stumped, they can ask their professor for help, initiating a conversation that can lead to greater understanding. All of that is more challenging for online students.

However, that doesn’t mean opportunities for interaction don’t exist. Encourage your student to participate in message boards and email their professor when needed. Have them examine online alternatives for study groups, such as getting together with classmates using free resources like Discord. Even simple phone conversations with other students can go a long way. So make sure your student considers every communication opportunity that can help them succeed.

stay motivated for college

4. Lead by Example

Students aren’t the only ones who suddenly found themselves spending more time at home; many parents did as well. Companies quickly had to embrace work-from-home models to keep their operations running, causing many professionals to have to adapt to remote work.

How a parent responds to telecommuting could impact their student’s motivation. If you aren’t as dedicated and accountable since you started working from home, your student will notice. This may make them believe that doing less is acceptable now, causing them to start underperforming.

If you want your online student to take learning seriously, you need to outwardly treat your work the same way. This creates a good example, ensuring your student doesn’t get the wrong impression.

5. Seek Out Professional Help

For some students, the lack of social interaction and gravity of the situation that caused it is hard to bear. In some cases, students may feel cut off from much of the world or fearful of what the future holds. While an occasional bout of sadness, frustration, or worry is normal, if it persists, it could be the sign of a mental health condition.

If your student may be struggling with depression or any other mental health concern, it’s wise for them to speak with a professional. When left untreated, the consequences can be severe, so taking action quickly is best.

Many colleges offer mental health services to students. However, if those aren’t available remotely, then speaking with a medical professional is a solid first step. They can evaluate the situation and recommend an approach or refer your student to a specialist. That way, your student can get the proper treatment, giving them the ability to overcome this challenge and get on the path toward something better.

If you and your student want to learn about how to find scholarships, ensuring that their ideal school is affordable, sign up for our free college scholarship webinar! Take a trip over to to reserve your spot today.

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