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How To Stay Motivated When Learning Online

There are many wonderful reasons to consider online learning. It is a flexible, affordable, and accessible equivalent to traditional learning models. For all of these reasons, online learning has grown considerably in popularity. It is often favoured by adult learners because it enables them to maintain their careers and home life commitments whilst studying at the same time. Research shows that online learning is the fastest-growing market in the education industry. It has experienced a 900% growth rate globally since the year 2000.
That doesn’t mean that online learning is without its challenges. Because online learners study in their own environments, often at home, and set their own pace, sometimes they report that it can be challenging to stay motivated. A recent survey confirms this, with 76% of undergraduates and 56% of graduate students identifying low motivation as the biggest challenge to their online learning success.
Maintaining motivation is integral to reaching your goals, then. In this blog, we’ll explore some tips and strategies for staying motivated when learning online to ensure that your online learning is a success:

Set Goals

Breaking down large tasks into smaller and more manageable goals makes them easier to achieve. When you achieve your goals you get a feeling of accomplishment, a burst of adrenaline, and the motivation that you need to continue with your studies. Some students benefit from setting daily goals (such as to a chapter of required reading or writing a certain number of words of an assignment) whilst others simply are not able to work in such a regimented way and find weekly or monthly goals work better for them.
When you’re setting goals it’s important to consider what your strengths and weaknesses are. Some goals will be harder to achieve than others, so you will need to be realistic and dedicate the right amount of time to each task: reading a chapter of a book and completing a full written assignment are not equal, and the same amount of time should not be attributed to each.
Studies have shown that people who set actionable tasks and regularly assess their progress along the way to achieving their goals are more successful than those who don’t. It isn’t just students who set goals: it is a regular practice for many successful individuals. Athletes, business professionals and other high achievers all regularly set goals and use these to motivate their success.
It’s not enough to just set goals; you should also record them. Different approaches to this will work best for different students, so you should experiment until you find the method that works for you. Some students need a visual approach and want to see the goals they are working towards. In this instance, you could consider sticking coloured sticky notes around your home to remind you of your current targets. Other students prefer a more methodical approach and are happy to record their goals in a list or on a spreadsheet. If you are a social learner, you could even consider finding a study buddy and setting goals together, so that you have someone to motivate you to make additional progress.
The more small successes you can achieve, the better. And remember that each goal you reach is a step closer towards your ultimate goal of completing your course.

Create a Schedule

Online learners have the freedom to study whenever and wherever suits them best. This flexibility is one of the main attractions of online learning for many students. But it’s important to note that, even if your study schedule is not conventional, you are still advised to put one in place.
Perhaps you work during the day and then study at night. Create a schedule that will see you complete your assigned reading for one hour each evening, and then set aside larger chunks of time at the weekends to complete your assignments. Or maybe you are trying to fit your studies around the demands of having a young family. In this case, you could create a schedule that involves smaller bursts of study time that would fit in with nap times, bedtimes and children’s activity schedules.
Some students are happy to have a timetable detailing the topics they wish to study at a high level, whilst others will benefit from a more detailed study plan. A study plan is more comprehensive than a timetable because it defines a methodology to deal with the preparation, planning, and problems faced in each subject. A timetable might say ‘spend one hour on maths’, for example, whilst a study plan will say which aspect of the study you are focusing on, the course material you should read, and any other pertinent information.
There are many benefits of setting a schedule to organise your online learning. First, if you have a plan you’re more likely to follow it and reach your goals. Second, if you include important dates and deadlines on your schedule (such as when your coursework should be completed by, or when your exams are) then you won’t forget to submit or attend these. Finally, whilst the primary aim of creating a study schedule is to determine when you study, this will also allow you to schedule regular breaks. This is important because without time away from your online learning, you may begin to suffer from burnout and if you are experiencing study fatigue then it is impossible to remain motivated.

Learner setting a schedule to organise her studies

Stay Organised

Organisation is an integral life skill that all online students develop. Whilst teachers in traditional learning environments often take control of organising their students and setting their schedules, online learners are responsible for their own organisation. They will quickly learn how important this is to their academic success. Many higher education institutions and employers recognise the value that online learning has in promoting and developing good organisational skills.

The good news is that because all of the lessons, course materials, and contact information you will need as part of your online learning course is administered online, it is much easier to stay organised as an online learner than it is as a traditional learner.

There are many different organisational techniques that you can adopt. These include:

  • Creating a quiet and calm dedicated study space where you can work without distractions, and spread out your course materials when you need them. This space should be well-lit and have a reliable internet connection and make you feel a sense of well-being.
  • Take advantage of the digital tools offered by your online learning provider. Many will provide online learning dashboards, calendars and even note-taking apps. Check your online learning management system regularly so you know what is coming up and can organise your schedule accordingly.
  • Organise your paperwork. Now is the perfect time to head to your favourite stationary shop and buy all the organisational equipment you need. Choose colours and patterns that make you feel happy so that you will be more inclined to use them. Planners, box files and clear files can all help you to track your reading lists, assignments, and any other vital information.

Staying organised can actually help to save you time, maximising the value of your study sessions. One study suggested that using the correct organisational tools can improve time management by up to 38%. What’s more, the National Association of Professional Organisers suggests that we spend one year of our lives looking for lost items. This clearly demonstrates how important it is to keep organised and ensure that you have an effective and efficient workspace.

Staying organised means staying on track: knowing what you want to achieve, what academic checkpoints are coming up, and how to reach them. However, it’s also important to ensure that when you do achieve these smaller goals, you take the time to reward yourself. Rewards are important, as an organisation tool, because they are a form of self-recognition.

Aim to reward yourself with something that you will enjoy and will serve as an act of self-care, giving you the time away from your studies that you need so that you can return feeling relaxed, motivated, and with a positive attitude to learning.

Connect with Others

The nature of online learning means that it is a very individual learning approach. You study in your own environment and at your own pace, meaning that many online learners do not build relationships with, or even interact with, the other learners on their course. Some learners feel that the main drawback of online learning is the lack of social interaction that they experience and the limited opportunities to connect with others.

However, there are ways to connect with others on your course and if you can do this, it can serve as a very positive motivational tool. Some online learning providers will have virtual social opportunities, and other students choose to share their contact information with their coursemates at the beginning of their course. This is a great way to reach out to others and establish connections.

If you are unable to connect with your coursemates, then you can still use personal connections as a motivational tool. Talk about your coursework with your friends, family, and colleagues. If you are undertaking your chosen course for career development, then you can connect it to your work life. Share your knowledge with your colleagues, and they will no doubt share their learning experiences with you too. This can be incredibly motivating.

Even if they don’t have a direct connection, or personal knowledge, of the course you are undertaking, your friends and family members are likely to be very interested to hear about your progress. Sharing this with them will provide you with an opportunity to develop your sense of pride and accomplishment. They can then motivate you to keep going and remind you of the reasons why you chose to sign up for the course in the first place.

Learning in a relaxed environment

Find What Works for You

There are a huge number of different motivational tools and techniques that you can adopt. Some of these may help you greatly, whilst you may find that others are more of a hindrance. The key to motivational success is to try as many different techniques as possible until you find the ones that work best for you. Every student is unique: what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another.

It is often said that comparison is the thief of joy: do not look at what other students are doing and question why their approach does not work for you. Focus only on your own wants and needs. If you feel that your motivation is waning, then take a break: focus on self-care and give yourself the rest that you need. Celebrate your successes and classify any failures or challenges as valuable life experiences.

Finally, it is important to be positive. Research has shown that 85% of people who have a positive outlook on life experience significantly less depression and anxiety than those who didn’t. It has also been demonstrated that positive thinking is good for the immune system, it reduces anxiety and leads to more successful learning outcomes. Positivity improves your skill set, it helps you learn, and long-term positivity can even help to change the structure of your brain. It is one of the most significant motivational tools that any online learning student can possess and it will have a significant impact on your learning outcomes.


Learning online can be a great way to achieve your goals, but it requires motivation and discipline. Online learning requires the same level of commitment, skill and knowledge as studying in a traditional learning environment. It should not, and cannot be seen as a shortcut.

By setting clear goals, creating a schedule, staying organised, connecting with others, and finding what works for you, you can stay motivated and achieve success in your online learning journey. It will take time and dedication, but online students should keep their end goal in mind and know that all of the hard work will ultimately be worth the effort.

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