How to Stay Motivated and On-Task in Your Online Course

Exams, assignments, tests, discussions—the requirements for any course can be tiring and finding the motivation to keep going may be tough, especially if you’re attending classes while trying to balance work and family life. But motivating yourself can be even more challenging if you’re attending courses online without the course meetings, direct interaction, and reminders that you may have in a traditional course.

But just because it’s harder to get motivated doesn’t mean that online courses aren’t worth it—they offer flexibility that can’t really be matched by courses that you have to come to campus to attend. So what do you do? You learn some tricks that will help you to keep you going and get you back on track when you feel your motivation slipping.

What is motivation?

Motivation is defined as “the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.” From a psychological perspective, it is the reason why someone does something. However, we often use motivation to describe a state of mind. A person can also feel motivated, and this feeling makes us eager and inspired to get things done.

It is more often the lack of this spark of eagerness that escapes most students than their extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. For example, the larger, overarching motivations for taking a course or earning a degree aren’t likely to change much—starting a career, moving up at work, a desire to learn more. It is your day to day emotional outlook, how you feel, that really determines your motivation at any given moment.

Why Motivation Is Even More Important in Online Learning

In an online course, you’re responsible for providing your own motivation. No one will be looking over your shoulder, reminding you of deadlines, or requiring that you meet up at a certain place and time. You have a lot more responsibility for your learning than you would in a traditional course, so your ability to get and stay motivated is especially important.

Recent scholarship has made this especially clear, with experts finding that online students may face problems related to social isolation and technical issues that cause frustration and loss of motivation that are not as often experienced by students in traditional courses.

While online learning may offer many benefits, it also comes with some new challenges. How you choose to overcome those challenges will have a big impact on how well you do in your courses. Sound intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. There are lots of ways to boost your motivation even when you’re learning independently.

Tips for Getting and Staying Motivated

  • Set goals. A big part of staying motivated is setting goals. Start by ranking your priorities in the course, setting attainable goals—nothing will kill your motivation faster than constantly falling short of your expectations—and creating a plan to help you accomplish those goals.
  • Know yourself. Be honest about what you struggle with. Need extra time for writing? Don’t start an essay the night before. Have trouble focusing when people are around? Find a quiet place to work. Every student has struggles, but pretending they don’t exist won’t help to keep you motivated and moving forward.
  • Tighten your focus. Sometimes lack of motivation comes in the form of avoidance. You don’t want to do your coursework because you dread spending all evening or all weekend on it. But you don’t have to tackle it all at once. Break things up into smaller chunks instead, focusing on the most important tasks first. This will allow you to chip away at what you have to get done without overwhelming you. Plus, many people find they get a lot more done this way, as it removes the fatigue associated with longer work sessions that can slow things down.
  • Know the why. Why are you taking this course? How does it help you to accomplish your goals? What lessons can you use from this in your career? Can you use this assignment to help you boost your skills? Knowing these things can help to give you the motivation you need to get to work.
  • Chart your progress. Keeping a list of things you need to do for your course, however small, and crossing each off when they’re complete can help give you a sense of pride and accomplishment. With that boost, you’re more likely to work hard to keep up your progress and make it possible to check off more things on your list.
  • Develop a routine. New to online learning? It can take some time to develop a routine that works for you and keeps you motivated. Try to work with your natural rhythms to find a time when you can easily concentrate and are at peak alertness, that way it won’t take so much willpower to stay on task.
  • Take care of yourself. Every student has lost sleep trying to finish a paper or study for an exam, but that shouldn’t be a habit. You need to take care of yourself if you want to be at your best. Start with sleeping well and eating healthy foods that boost your brainpower, like those listed here.
  • Participate and engage. While online classes don’t have to be isolating, they can be if you don’t stay engaged. Reach out to your professor and your classmates to start building relationships and finding social connections that will make you excited to tackle your coursework.
  • Find a friend. Know someone else taking an online course? Meet up. You can work together, share your challenges, and keep each other on task so you’ll both reap the benefits of accountability. Talking about schoolwork can also help you work through tough ideas and will help you to better remember the material.
  • Stay positive. Courses, whether online or off, can be challenging. This can lead to fatigue and stress, ultimately leaving you feeling pretty lackluster about your courses and perhaps even avoiding them in favor of things that offer more instant gratification. But as hard as they may be, you need to stay positive. Finding that impossible? Connect with your professor and ask for help with your assignments or just some guidance on ways you can make things easier on yourself so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Reward yourself. You don’t want to get so stressed and overworked that you burn out, so schedule in time to take a break, reward yourself with a treat, and give yourself time to refresh before hitting the books. By taking time to acknowledge your accomplishments you’ll be more confident that you can take on any challenges your course throws at you.

Keep in mind that motivation is always in flux and that you’ll need to stay on top of keeping yours up throughout the semester, especially when you’re at your busiest. Use these tips as a place to start and offer you own to other online students in the comments.