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Downsides of E-Learning: Self-Motivation and Time Management

It can be challenging to stay motivated when studying online – and with greater flexibility, finding the time can strangely enough often feel more difficult. In this article, we'll look at some of the factors at play and how you can stay focused on your desired e-learning results.

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Having greater freedom over when and how you study can be a blessing to those with busy schedules. But this control also comes with responsibility. Without the strict timetable and in-person encouragement that comes with traditional education, learners can easily find themselves straying off course and failing to reach their learning goals.

To succeed with distance learning, students must cultivate a strong sense of self-motivation, discipline, and time management. This can be one of the downsides of e-learning because the success of learners depends more on their individual attitudes and psychological characteristics.

But students don’t need to nurture these traits all on their own. Certain e-learning platforms and structures can better engage learners and encourage them to commit their time and attention. This article will explore why e-learning faces this problem and how it can be fixed.

Table of Contents

Why is it so hard to stay motivated with e-learning?

1. Lack of Accountability

Anyone who has tried to start a side project or hobby and eventually let it fall by the wayside knows the struggle that can come with doing something on your own. It helps to have strict schedules and a person to be accountable to – especially on those days when our motivation is lacking, and our energies are low. The case is no different when learning a new skill or starting a new course. This lack of accountability can be a weakness in e-learning, particularly if students are less motivated to reach their learning goals.

The problem is evident in both learning and assessment. With distance learning, lessons are often not in-person and can be taken at the student’s own pace. While this can benefit learners, there is also less pressure to show up. It is not the same as having class at a specific time and location with a teacher who takes roll call or knows whether you are there.

Sometimes these lessons are asynchronous, too, meaning they are not live. This may be difficult for those who struggle to focus when not in a formal environment. Even when e-learning features live group lessons with teachers and peers, the internet and other distractions are right at learners’ fingertips.

When it comes to assessment, e-learning courses often use multiple choice or true/false tests, which are marked automatically by computers. Although some accountability is involved, it’s not the same as a lecturer or tutor giving you personalized feedback and talking to you about the results. There is less outside encouragement for you to achieve your goals.

Solution: Featuring some live interaction between instructors and students via group or solo video conference calls can help to increase students’ sense of obligation. It would mean they are accountable for being in a lesson at a specific time, which can encourage them to stay on track and reach their goals.

While distractions at home might still pose a challenge, teachers can offer incentives or disincentives, like making participation mandatory, which can boost focus. Online tutors can keep track of students and their progress if classes are too big for the teachers to do so.

If courses don’t have a live component, there are still ways to ensure students engage with the lessons. Making them write out full or detailed answers during assignments (rather than doing multiple choice tests) can make them feel more responsible for paying attention during the course.

2. The need for self-motivation

There are many reasons why people might want to learn. Someone might take on a new language or skill as a hobby, learn about business to improve job prospects, or engage in education because their family expects it.

There are generally two types of motivation: these are called extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. We are intrinsically motivated to do something when we do so because it is satisfying in some way. Perhaps it is fun or challenging. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, involves doing something to gain some outcome or consequence. For example, one might take on some activity to attain rewards and recognition.

In distance learning environments, many of the traditional external motivations are missing. In a classroom, if someone starts talking to their friend instead of listening, the teacher might call them out. If a student fails their test, a tutor might ask them about their mark. But there are often fewer interactions between students and teachers in an online environment.

Perhaps this explains why intrinsic motivation is the greatest predictor of learning outcomes for e-learners. With more flexible schedules and less interaction with traditional authority figures such as teachers, students achieve their learning goals when they have personal reasons for studying. They might, for example, enjoy the material or find it stimulating.  

Solution: One way of getting around this problem is to encourage learners to connect with their intrinsic motivation for learning. Getting students to write personal or visual essays and share them with their online peers can encourage them to reflect on their own reasons for starting the online course. Even if they don’t want to learn about business for its own sake, maybe they are passionate about cooking and know that business skills will help them own a restaurant one day.

It is also important to remember that learners will be more motivated to learn when they genuinely like or are stimulated by the lessons. Ensuring that the study materials are interesting, engaging, and challenging can help to increase intrinsic motivation. Multimedia tools, such as videos, podcasts, and game-style exercises, can also make learning more pleasant. 

3. Time management skills

Being motivated to learn can help strengthen discipline, which is a mental muscle that can be more difficult to flex when you’re learning online. When course materials are mainly pre-recorded videos or exercises taken at learners’ own pace, they have to find time in their busy week to work on their studies and stick to it. When life gets overwhelming, and no one is checking up on them, committing can be a challenge. Being able to manage one’s time, plan ahead, and set goals become vital.

Time management is also related to self-monitoring in general, which is students’ ability to reflect on their own learning progress. For online courses that are more asynchronous, learners need to know how much time and effort is required to reach specific goals. Of course, this is also important for in-person classes. But much of the work is done for learners when they must attend designated weekly lessons and their teachers give them homework and set deadlines for goals.

Solution: There are a few ways to encourage learners to monitor their learning progress and manage their time. As an introduction to online learning, students can take courses on time management and organization to learn what is required and the kind of techniques that may help.

Methods that can improve time management, in general, can be used. For example, the Promodoro technique sets up 25-minute focus sessions broken up by five-minute breaks. These tiny work sessions can reduce the tendency to check e-mails, social media, and other time-wasters.

Another method, called time-blocking, involves putting a specific time aside each week or day to focus on one’s online course. Dedicating specific periods to learning can help improve attention when other distractions might be tempting. Learners could even set aside their commuting time as a period for reading or listening to course material. Fitting lessons into these kinds of periods is one of the perks of asynchronous online learning.

Students are also more likely to manage their time better if they are more motivated, so time management and self-motivation feed into each other. Creating more accountability in the course, engaging students with interesting topics or questions, and providing opportunities for personal interactions with teachers or peers can also encourage learners to use their time more efficiently.

Conclusion: Can I stay motivated with online learning?

Sometimes the ease with which people can sign up for online courses can be detrimental. The less effort involved in joining, the less serious e-learners might be toward their education. The key to persevering and finishing an online course is having a strong sense of self-motivation and the ability to monitor oneself through things like time management.

Though these traits are personal and will vary from one individual to the next, online courses can help facilitate these characteristics. They can provide additional support such as personalized interactions with teachers and peers, exercises encouraging self-reflection, and resources focused on learning techniques and time management. This can make e-learning not only more effective but also more fulfilling.