Week 10: Engaging and Motivating Students Online


Ensuring that students are engaged and motivated is a common concern in both the traditional and online classroom. Research has shown that motivation and engagement are central to student achievement, and both can affect learner persistence and retention (Bart, 2012). Online learning environments can present a unique challenge when it comes to motivation and engagement because they lack the physical presence of the educator and the dynamics of a live class. Educators may have difficulty expressing their own enthusiasm and encouragement when they are new to the online environment, and without face-to-face contact, educators are not able to easily pick up onobserve nonverbal cues from students that can indicate if they are disengaged. In addition, learning online requires students to be more self-directed and accountable, and if students are not motivated or engaged it can affect their success. Thus, it is important that online educators are aware of the factors that can contribute to motivation and engagement in the online environment and that they are able to facilitate activities and utilize strategies to nurture engagement and motivation online. This module will examine Keller’s ARCS Model and will discuss strategies for improving online motivation and engagement.

Learning Outcomes

When you have completed this module, you should be able to:

  • Describe motivation and engagement and how they are related to student success in the online environment
  • Explain the four major conditions for motivation according to Keller’s ARCS Model
  • Discuss several strategies for improving online motivation and engagement

Topic 1 – Introduction to Motivation and Engagement

Martin (2006) describes motivation as students’ energy and drive to engage, learn, work effectively, and achieve their potential at school. According to Kim and Bennekin (2013), motivation refers to the willingness to exert effort to work on a learning task. The literature typically acknowledges two broad categories of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation involves pursuing a task for the satisfaction, engagement or interest the task itself might provide whereas extrinsic motivation involves pursuing a task for purposes beyond the task such as reward from an external source. In the context of learning, intrinsic motivation involves learning something for its inherent interest or enjoyment while extrinsic motivation involves learning something as a means to an end, such as earning a credential or a grade (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Research suggests that extrinsic motivation tends to lead to surface learning and lower achievement, whereas intrinsic motivation tends to lead to deeper learning and higher achievement (Pintrich, 2004). Hill and Rowe (1996) suggest that although motivation can be intrinsic to the student, educators also play a role and motivation can be influenced by educator and classroom level variables.

Engagement typically refers to “the amount, type, and intensity of investment students make in their educational experiences” (Jennings & Angelo, 2006, p. 6). It has also been described as “students’ cognitive investment in, active participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning” (Zepke & Leach, 2010, p. 168). Engagement in the context of education is often described in terms of three categories:

  1. Affective Engagement – Interest and enjoyment;
  2. Behavioral Engagement – Effort and hard work; and
  3. Cognitive Engagement – Caring about and valuing the work at hand (Conner & Pope, 2013).

The National Survey of Student Engagement identifies five clusters or benchmarks of effective engagement:

  1. Academic Challenge;
  2. Active and Collaborative Learning;
  3. Student–Faculty Interaction;
  4. Enriching Educational Experiences; and
  5. Supportive Campus Environment (Kuh, 2009).

Students who are actively engaged tend to demonstrate more effort, experience emotions that are positive, are inclined to take on more challenging tasks, and have greater educational success than those who are less engaged (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004).

Motivation and engagement have been found to have a reciprocal relationship. Positive motivation leads to increased engagement, increased engagement leads to continuing success, and this ongoing success leads to increased motivation (Afflerbach, Harrison, & Alvermann, 2017). Students who are motivated by and engaged in learning tend to perform considerably higher academically and are better prepared than their unmotivated or disengaged peers are (Fredricks, Bulumenfeld, & Paris, 2004). Both motivation and engagement are influenced by students’ prior experiences. Students who have experienced success in learning tend to be more motivated whereas students who experience failure tend to be less motivated and, as a result, less engaged. Therefore, in order to help promote students’ achievement it is important to create a classroom environment in which motivation and engagement thrive. This is especially key in the online environment where motivation and engagement can be more difficult to monitor and facilitate.

Topic 2 – The ARCS Model


Keller (1987) developed the ARCS Model of Motivation, which is based upon the notion that there are four key elements in the learning process that can encourage and sustain learners’ motivation. These four categories represent sets of conditions that are necessary for a person to be fully motivated and include the following:

  1. Attention – Strategies for capturing and maintaining learner attention including Incongruity and Conflict, Concreteness, Variability, Humor, Inquiry, and Participation
  2. Relevance – Strategies for establishing relevance of the material being taught including: Experience, Present worth, Future usefulness, Need matching, Modelling, and Choice.
  3. Confidence – Strategies for improving and sustaining learner confidence including Learning requirements, Difficulty, Expectations, Attributions, and Self – confidence
  4. Satisfaction – Strategies for providing a sense of learner satisfaction through intrinsic and extrinsic rewards including Natural consequences, Unexpected rewards, Positive outcomes, Avoidance of negative influences, and Scheduling

According to Keller (1987), Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction are all needed to make learning interesting, meaningful and appropriately challenging for students. The ARCS Model of motivation has been applied successfully to a variety of learning settings, including the online environment, and each of the categories can be applied to a variety of instructional contexts. This model can provide a useful framework for selecting strategies and activities for the online environment to promote motivation and engagement.

A PDF of the ARCS model can be found here:


Topic 3 – Strategies for Supporting Online Motivation and Engagement


Briggs (2015) identifies three major obstacles to student engagement and proposes ten ways to overcome these barriers to student engagement online:

  • Social Obstacles — Students may become disengaged if they feel isolated or if they don’t get to interact with their instructor and peers. You can help to overcome social barriers to student engagement with the following strategies:
    • Make contact with students before the course begins with a welcome email message
    • Create an introductory activity so that students can get to know each other
    • Provide opportunities for ongoing learner interaction
    • Encourage sharing from learners
  • Administrative Obstacles — Students can get frustrated if they don’t know how and when to contact the instructor and get discouraged if they don’t know their progress in the course or if expectations aren’t clearly communicated. You can use the following strategies to overcome administrative barriers to student engagement:
    • Establish contact methods and hours by communicating your email address and phone number as well as the best days and times to reach you
    • Be clear and concise with your directions and expectations
    • Provide effective and timely feedback
  • Motivational Obstacles — Students may face additional distractions when completing online course work and you can help overcome motivation barriers and keep students on track using these strategies:
    • Chunk your content into small digestible pieces
    • Send reminders to keep students on track
    • Use a variety of multimedia and modalities

Sull (2013) also suggests that educators post a welcome announcement that is enthusiastic and motivating, and post ongoing announcements throughout the course so students can see that you are engaged at all times. He also recommends that educators respond to all student queries within 24 hours, and that they ensure that all assignment feedback is detailed and positive in tone.

Online Readings/Videos

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select from the following online readings and videos to provide to the learners:



Learning Activities

The group that is facilitating the module this week will select one activity from the following to facilitate:

Learning Activity 1 – ARCS Model

Students will divide into four groups based on the four major conditions for motivation identified by Keller. Each group will brainstorm possible ways to improve the assigned condition for motivation in on online environment (they can draw from the online courses they are auditing, the readings, or their own personal experience), and will share their top suggestions with the rest of the group.

Learning Activity 2 – Visual of ARCS Model

Students will be asked to create a visual depiction of the ARCS model that incorporates the four major conditions and clearly indicates how the conditions affect student motivation. Student can use any digital tools that they would like to create their visuals and will share their creations with the group.

Learning Activity 3 – Engagement and Motivation Case Study

Students will be presented with a case study that describes a scenario related to online engagement and motivation and will be asked to analyze the case and provide suggestions for how they can address the issues identified in the case based on the readings, the online course that they are auditing, or their own personal experience.

Feedback Activity

Students that were not facilitating this week will be asked to provide constructive feedback to the weeks’ facilitators. One strategy that you can use to provide feedback is the “I Like, I Wish, What If” method. Using this method, you can provide open feedback by providing three types of statements for your peers (Stanford University Institute of Design, 2016):

  • “I Like…” statements convey the aspects that you liked about the online facilitation
  • “I Wish…” statements share ideas about how the online facilitation could potentially be enhanced or modified
  • “What if…” statements express new suggestions for the online facilitation that might open up possibilities for new ideas that your peer can explore

Another strategy you can use for peer feedback of online facilitation is a Feedback Capture Grid, which includes four quadrants to note your likes, wishes, questions and ideas. You can use the following template to guide your feedback if you chose to use this method.

Post your feedback in the appropriate discussion forum.

Reflection Activity

Students that were facilitating this week will be asked to complete a “ FLIF ” ( F eel, L ike, I mprove, F eedback) reflection (Adapted from Facilitating Learning Online – Fundamentals, 2018).


Online learning can present a different challenge compared to the traditional classroom when it comes to supporting student motivation and engagement. Without the presence of visual cues, it can be hard for educators to tell when students become disengaged, and new online educators may also find it difficult to convey their own motivation and enthusiasm in the online environment. Also, the online environment requires greater self-motivation from student in order to stay on track and engaged. This module provided an overview of motivation and engagement, and examined Keller’s ARCS model of motivation, which suggests that Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction are all needed to make learning interesting, meaningful, and appropriately challenging for students. It also explored a variety of strategies that can be used to support motivation and engagement in the online environment. In the next module, we will explore strategies for managing the online environment.


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