By Madie Starnes, Undergraduate Student, FASS

To the disappointment of many Carleton students, this academic year has been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt transition to virtual classes has been a steep learning curve for both students and instructors. The pandemic has turned our lives completely upside down and adjusting to this new sense of normal has been overwhelming and anxiety provoking for many. Learning from home has proven to be challenging with many distractions, countless opportunities for procrastination, and above all else, a lack of motivation.

Maximizing Intrinsic Motivation

Online learning requires cognitively generated motivation, meaning that an individual must be a self-motivated learner who makes use of self-regulating mechanisms  to be successful (Frijda et al., 1988). Intrinsic motivation is described as an internal drive that motivates us to execute tasks out of interest and enjoyment. The execution of the task itself is rewarding and results in a strong sense of satisfaction. Intrinsic motivation is a durable and powerful driver that fosters productiveness, high quality work and high academic performance. During challenging times, our internal motivation is at risk of being depleted so we must make use of self-regulation mechanisms to maintain our internal drive to learn (Whitfield et al., 2021). While some students are intrinsically motivated, many are not.

Motivating the Unmotivated

The expectancy-value theory is grounded in the social cognitive perspective of motivation and is a strong predictor of academic achievement (Doménech-Betoret et al., 2017). The theory states that motivation increases when a task seems achievable and rewarding. There is a strong relationship between the probability of goal attainment, the perceived value of the task and estimated effort expenditure. Self-efficacy is another important factor of the motivational theory that refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to complete tasks necessary to produce desired results (Doménech-Betoret et al., 2017). The stronger a person’s self-efficacy belief that they can yield desired performance outcomes, the more they intensify their efforts and are motivated to try (Frijda, et al., 1988). For many students, making these connections are essential to being academically successful. So how can students struggling in online courses find motivation?

Motivation-Maintaining Strategies

Self-motivation is a skill that can be developed and strengthened through self-management techniques that help increase one’s self-discipline and overall productivity. When setting goals, it’s important to set yourself up for success by making them measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (Whitfield et al., 2021). Try making a short daily checklist of manageable tasks organized by priority that can be completed by the end of the day (Elia, 2020). Making a checklist is an effective way to stay on task and will give you a sense of satisfaction when you cross things off . Focusing on small goals each day will make your workload seem more manageable and will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed. Studies have proven that clear, attainable goals produce higher levels of performance than general intentions, which are less concrete and hold less accountability (Frijda, et al., 1988).

When learning from home, it’s important to recognize that there are good days when your drive and enthusiasm are high and other days when your motivation is completely out the window. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t able to get all the tasks on your list checked off but acknowledge your effort (Elia, 2020). Try to add some structure to your day by developing a daily routine or schedule that includes a lunch break as well as a brain or body break. Above all else, it’s important to take one day at a time and to give yourself a pat on the back for getting through this challenging year and continuing your learning journey online.

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