Motivating Online Learners

Digital scaffolds are essential to motivating online activities – if you want to do more than swap the exercise book for the glass page.

These things go a long way avoiding the ‘exercise book trap’ such as “Identify two factors that caused World War 1” onto a blog.

I’ve often seen that, usually from teachers who accept that moving to read/write activities is needed, but find it more difficult to find ways to do it – so how do you motivate learners to do more than answer text-book style questions?

2089763143_df440a5eb9Firstly, in planning the online activity consider what is the extrinsic reward of taking part?

Starting with the end in mind

Make this clear throughout each activity. This is achieved by starting with the end in mind.

What, at the end of the online activity will students be presenting to you? How will that encompass the standards/outcomes/content needed?

Enquiry based Digital Taxonomies

Much of today’s classroom ‘questions’ are based on Blooms Taxonomy. That can be elevated and integrated into digital taxonomies to motivate learners.

Identify 3 factors that caused World War One.Explain why they went to war. Justify your response.

Digital Blooms
Create a podcast to explain the causes of World War One through events and people leading up to ‘the war to end all wars’.

Inquiry Based Digital Blooms
World War One was called the ‘war to end all wars’. Why then, do we still have wars?

Which of these statements would lead to a more motivational project? Why?

The question drives the learning. The overall end goal will probably sound quite interesting. It is open ended, and initially starts with them thinking from a personal level. “Have I heard that said before?”,”That sounds dumb”,”What are you on about!”. The point is that the answer is neither obvious or explicit, nor does it state which technology to use, nor how what is embedded in the learning.

Those things appear in the documentation of the project, the ‘requirement’. So you can ensure you also embed the key syllabus needs and choose a technological approach that will allow them to explore more than ‘written text’.

Student Generated Questions – they are the experts

That will lead to a lot of questions, which you don’t have to answer. But you do have to discuss them with the class, and get them to clearly understand what they know as ‘fact’ and what they need to know.

Often students think they know – or worse they think that can easily find out – via Google or Wikipedia.

What is a podcast?
Who said ‘the war to end all wars’?
How long is it?
What do we need to put in it?
When was WW1?
Who was involved?

Motivation though ‘chunking’ activities.

When planning, you have to think – how can this ‘end’ be ‘chunked’ into smaller activities to make it more motivating? – Can they cope with being given it at once?

This means that you have to be very explicit about the end goal. To do that you will have to give some resources and boundaries. But take the opportunity to ‘Google proof’ their learning, and clearly explain your expectations.

In developing your podcast, each person will need to research and reflect each lesson on your learning. When you record your group’s podcast, each person will contribute one possible cause, and personally record it for the production.

OMG – I have to participate, and I have to talk about what I am doing towards it all the time!

Prepare yourself for the work-avoiders to mount a rebellion

Yes! they will moan, yes they won’t be used to it, but they will do it! Don’t pander to it – you have just made them accountable to you and more importantly, to each other. That is motivating. It may take several days for them to stop saying ‘I don’t understand’ – remember, students have a wealth of experience in claiming they ‘don’t understand’ – it is simply work avoidance. Ignore it, and focus on praising those who are participating – you are removing the oxygen that that has previously sustained work-avoidance and plagiarism. Be ruthless. The worst thing you can do is ‘give the answer’. Make them find it and believe it for themselves.

That means that each lesson ‘chunk’ has to be considered. Are the ‘breadcrumbs’ I am giving them ‘too hard’ or ‘too easy’?

Tackling the ‘lurkers’.

When presenting the project to students, don’t threaten them with failure. Just talk about the success opportunities for them. Talk about what they have to ‘lose’ by not actively participating. How are you going to stop the ‘lurkers’? We all know that in typical ‘group’ work, with a ‘group’ presentation that some students do nothing, as they know more studious students will carry them.

Are there things you can build into the project  – to stop lurking? – Are there ICT technologies that can act as effective ‘activity trackers’, as an intervention to discourage lurking?

Of course there are. Lots of ways. This to me is one of the more powerful reasons to use social media tools. They use time and date as their differentiators.

Motivation to participate comes though them discovering how ridiculously easy it is to identify their level of participation – anytime, all the time. Of course, you don’t need to labour the point, they soon figure it out.

It is quite liberating for students and teachers to discover that it is no longer difficult to figure out who did what in a group project, to communicate with each student at a personal level, weave conversations and then to allocate rewards. This makes the learning, conversational, rethinking formative assessment.

So when in class, you don’t have to give the answers, as you don’t need to ask the questions. You can give clues, lead them down thinking paths and ultimately use the power of the ‘community’ to keep the conversation on track – through ‘comments’.

This is when a blogging community should be used, to reflect, discuss and weave conversations on learning as they happen. Weaving the comments is often a new skill, and quite different from the classroom experience.

Of course, this is a quick summary … but if you can identify the benefits in this approach, you can then start to think about how this changes the use of ICTs. You will start to think about how ICTs can work better for students and how digital pedagogy does that.

In short re-thinking student motivational factors is an effective approach improving learning as a group and as individuals.


One thought on “Motivating Online Learners

  1. How funny, motivating students is exactly my next blog post. I have enough trouble motivating students in the F2F context, let alone online. I look forward to reading this in more depth and getting some hints for my own teaching.

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