One of the biggest challenges in e-learning is keeping up motivation throughout the course. For many college students, enthusiasm for classes may wane mid-semester; online students, who lack the face to face feedback to reinforce their motivation, may experience this even more strongly than their on-campus peers.

To re-energize your online discussion, think about the kinds of discussion questions that will not only engage your students in the course material, but also help them relate and apply the material beyond the classroom.

Motivation and instructors

“Your instructors will typically be an excellent source of motivation,” Ryan Watkins and Michael Corry advised online students in their E-learning Companion: Student’s Guide to Online Learning, 4th edition. “They will not only know you personally through the course but will also know your past performance and upcoming course requirements, and generally understand why the topics in the course should be of interest.” (Watkins, 160)

For online students who are willing to seek out the instructor’s help for staying motivated, your primary job is to provide them with the feedback they need.

  • Respond quickly. Students who e-mail or post responses to discussion questions only to have their messages hit dead air space aren’t likely to feel engaged in the class.
  • Provide personalized feedback that encourages the students to live up to their potential for the course. Feeling as though success is within reach is important for all college students, but particularly for online learners.
  • Give students a sense that their own input matters. Take their feedback seriously, and when you can give them choices in the course, let them take the lead. While you have likely prepared all the major discussion topics for the course, make room to allow student-generated topics as well.
  • Check in with students to make sure they are getting the support they need. Ideally, online students have developed relationships and a support structure among their peers by mid-semester; if that does not seem to be the case, creating group projects and social learning opportunities may be a way to jumpstart those lagging peer relationships.

One of the major factors in student motivation, particularly for online courses, is feeling that their instructor cares. According to Rob Kelly in Faculty Focus article, “Five Factors that Affect Online Student Motivation,” posted August 10, 2012, “in a study of 609 online learners, caring was the number one predictor of online instructor ratings.”

Re-energizing online discussions

Many online classes use discussion boards to engage with the course material. By mid-semester, the instructor should be able to take the role of a participant, rather than a leader, in these conversations.” An overly active instructor can squelch student participation,” wrote the creators of the pdf, “Generating and Facilitating Engaging and Effective Online Discussions,” available through the University of Oregon.

The University of Oregon team offered additional advice for keeping online discussions relevant:

  • Make it clear that participation is part of the course grade. If you have noticed some students are not participating, reach out to them to remind them that participating is a course requirement.
  • Be a good moderator. Give students a warning if their discussion have gotten off topic, and end threads that have veered too far afield. Consider opening a social lounge section of the discussion board for those non-academic topics, which can help bolster support among online classmates.
  • Create discussion questions that are open ended to engage higher-order thinking skills.

How have you given new life to online discussions in your e learning courses? Share your tips in the comments.