5 Tips on Developing Self-Motivation in Students

Middle school female student taking notes and attending online school

This post was originally posted in March 2015. It has been updated for timeliness, accuracy and relevancy in November 2021.


With flexible daily schedules and the ability to complete lessons at your own pace, online school offers a learning environment that encourages students to become self-motivated, independent learners. As students advance through online school, they develop important self-reliance skills that will help them succeed in school and wherever their journey takes them next.  

But what happens when student motivation starts to wane, or your student hits a rough spot and loses interest in learning? How can online school teachers, parents, and Learning Coaches keep students motivated?

Researchers analyzing studies on student motivation found that teachers and parents influence student motivation by satisfying three psychological needs: competency, belonging, and autonomy. The analysis also found that students who are self-motivated are more likely to do better in school and have a better overall sense of wellbeing. 

Here are five tips to spark student motivation by tapping into the psychological drivers that help students become motivated learners.  


5 Tips on Developing Self Motivation in Students


1. Self Motivation Begins with Praising Effort

Students can lose motivation if they aren’t grasping the concepts, or if they do poorly on assignments and tests. Educator and school psychologist Allen Mendler, Ph.D., noted in his book, Motivating Students Who Don’t Care, that praising students when they fail is a good motivator. 

When grading tests and assignments, instead of just marking all of the wrong answers, teachers should add notes of praise next to the right answers. And for parents, reinforcing all the right answers will go a long way as well. This helps students gain a sense of accomplishment and will help them feel competent even though they got some questions wrong. They will feel motivated to do better next time.  

Parents and teachers should also separate effort from achievement, praising students for putting in the effort and trying their best even if the outcome wasn’t the grade they wanted. Receiving recognition for their hard work will motivate students to continue putting in the work to achieve better results.  

Parents especially can define what success looks like for their families—it might not always be aligned with an A-student. 


2. Empower Them to Become Self-Motivated

Students that take an active role in decisions and feel like their voice is being heard are more likely to stay motivated. If your student is attending online school, involve them in creating the daily school schedule, and take into account their requests for downtime. Let them help design their learning space and make it their own. Discuss class choices together and let them choose their electives.  

Work together to develop school rules, expectations, and consequences. Offer choices to give them the confidence in making decisions on things that are important to them. This gives them a better sense of self and purpose, which are strong motivators.  

Also, ask them what motivates them. Middle and high school students know what they need and what they are interested in doing. Ask your student what motivates them – or why they aren’t motivated. The answer may surprise you. 


3. How to Develop Self Motivation in Students: Make Learning Exciting!

Students are engaged and motivated to learn when they are excited about a subject. Teachers and Learning Coaches can help bring lessons to life by scheduling field trips or doing other hands-on activities that are tied to the lesson. Visit a museum, see a play, or attend a concert to build excitement and inspire students to learn. Encourage students to join a club or other extracurricular activity to give them a sense of belonging, which is a powerful motivator. Find ways to inspire their natural curiosity. Make a rewards system to help encourage and motivate them to achieve mutually agreed upon goals.  


4. Talk About Future Goals to Help Them Stay Motivated

Helping your student explore and identify potential careers will help them stay motivated by giving them goals to work towards. Encourage them to follow their passions. Make sure they know they have what it takes, giving them confidence in their abilities. For online high school students, encourage them to shadow, take a summer job, find an age-appropriate volunteer opportunity, or participate in internship programs. 


5. Stay Connected with your Self-Motivated Student

It can be hard to watch students lose interest in their studies. Stay connected with your student by keeping the lines of communication open and showing you are there for them. Ask about their feelings and try to get to the root cause of their lack of student motivation. Ask for their feedback on the course, content, and lessons. Send them encouraging notes and emails. Cheer them on! Knowing they have someone in their corner can give them confidence and motivate them to achieve their goals.


Motivation for Students in Online School

It's important to monitor your student to ensure they are staying motivated and completing their online lessons. If your student begins to fall behind in school, you may want to consider getting them a tutor. You should also always consult his or her teacher for advice and feedback. 

If it’s your first time switching to a virtual school like Connections Academy, your student is probably adjusting to their flexible schedule, independent learning, and new teacher and classmates. Find other creative ways to motivate virtual school students, and watch your student hone their self-motivation skills in every grade! 

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