Motivation Tips for Students

6 min to read
A student is sitting on her bed with dog while taking notes for an online class

Whether your student is a perfectionist or a struggling procrastinator, it’s natural for them to lose motivation during the school year. As a Learning Coach to a student enrolled in online school, you may find yourself intervening by trying to give them encouragement or a pep talk. But that doesn’t always seem to help. What do you do then to help your student feel motivated?

What is Motivation?

Motivation is “the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.” Motivation is what fuels us to strive toward something and to improve.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation occurs when the student enjoys a task and wants to succeed for the sake of doing well and/or becoming better at that skill. 

For example, they may write a story because they enjoy writing. The grade is not what is causing student motivation; it’s that the student is enjoying the work and has an internal drive in them to make the work good. 

Extrinsic motivation is any external incentive, such as praise, treats, or other rewards, that motivates the student. For example, a student may study for a math test not because they enjoy math but in the hopes of receiving a good grade. The factor creating student motivation is the grade.

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can occur simultaneously, but developing intrinsic student motivation is important in the long term because it teaches students to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, and independent learners rather than becoming dependent on rewards.

Identify the Cause of Reduced Motivation

One of the first steps to fixing a problem is identifying it. So if a Learning Coach can figure out what has caused a student’s lack of motivation, then they can help their student find motivation for success in school again. 

Possible causes of reduced motivation include:

1. The student doesn’t understand an assignment’s value.

If the student doesn’t understand the importance of an assignment as it relates to what they want to do with their lives, then they may find themselves lacking the motivation to complete it.

How to motivate students who don’t think their lesson is important

A Learning Coach can show how the lesson relates to the next step in a student’s journey, their desired career, or how it will give them a certain life skill. Giving examples of real-world applications of the skills the student will learn in their assignment can show them why the task needs to be completed and help motivate them when motivation doesn’t come naturally.

For example, if a student doesn’t understand why they need to complete an essay analyzing Shakespeare when their dream is to be an engineer, show them how clear communication and analytical skills are applicable no matter what they are studying. 

 An online student at a laptop using motivation tools.

2. The student is bored.

Boredom happens. Sometimes it stems from a student not being challenged enough, but it may also occur because they simply don’t find the topic interesting. 

How to motivate students who are bored in school

Students need to have a clear end goal to motivate them through an assignment they find boring, so you may need to use an extrinsic reward to create student motivation. 

Rewards like getting an extra 30-minute break to play video games after completing an assignment can help students reach their goal. 

However, there is a fine balance between rewards and bribes.

3. The student may have paralysis by analysis.

Paralysis by analysis refers to when someone sees so many possible options, pathways, and consequences that they don’t know what to do and feel overwhelmed, anxious, or confused. This can result in a student procrastinating because they want to avoid the anxiety and mental pain associated with the task.

How to overcome paralysis by analysis

First, analyze the situation and break apart the problem into smaller, more manageable pieces that can be focused on, and solved, one at a time.

For example, if a student is struggling with a book report, a Learning Coach can first ask the student what it is about the assignment that they are struggling with the most. If they are struggling with the idea of writing a whole book report, then a Learning Coach can break down the assignment into individual steps, such as writing an outline and collecting their ideas.

4. The student feels pressured.

This problem is usually caused by a student fearing failure or judgment. Such pressure to succeed at all costs has been linked to depression, anxiety, and reduced student motivation.

How to motivate students who feel pressured

One of the best ways to motivate students who feel academic pressure is to help them take off the pressure. Learning Coaches can be sources of positive support for students by helping them shift their mindset so they understand that while academic success is important, it’s not the be-all and end-all. Ensure the student knows that they will still be valued, cared about, and supported—even if they are not perfect.

5. The student is distracted.

Distractions can stem from a variety of causes, including working in a noisy environment, dealing with mental health issues, navigating social issues, or attending to numerous responsibilities or extracurricular activities.

How to motivate students who are distracted in school

Learning Coaches should first find out what is distracting the student. Perhaps they need a quieter place to study, or are struggling with finding the balance between their responsibilities at home and in school. All of this requires that Learning Coaches talk with their student so they can identify roadblocks to learning and then work together on creating a plan to help solve the problem(s) and help the student find motivation for success in school.

Two online students talk together while working on their assignments.

6. They’re burned out.

Being burned out means a student has experienced an extended period in which they’ve felt emotional, mental, and even physical exhaustion when it comes to completing schoolwork. Burnout is often associated with a lack of motivation, negative attitudes, and decreased performance.

How to motivate students dealing with burn out

Ironically, sometimes the best way to motivate a student who is burned out is to encourage them not to work for a while. Taking a break, enjoying an outdoor activity, reading for fun, practicing self-care, or doing something different instead of the student’s scheduled routine can help the student decompress and feel recharged.

For example, if a student has studied intensely for several tests within the last two weeks, they may feel exhausted and unmotivated to study further. A hike may be the perfect solution for recharging their mind, exercising their body (which can help reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety), and giving them a much-needed break from their schoolwork.

A lack of motivation is a common occurrence for students, but Learning Coaches can help them find motivation for success again through identifying the root cause(s), talking openly and honestly with them, and developing a plan that uses intrinsic and extrinsic motivational strategies.

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