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Motivating online students who experience high anxiety

Students who experience high anxiety can have difficulty controlling attention, can take longer to complete tasks, and often expend more effort to achieve the same results as fellow students. With these challenges, and the daily reality of living with high anxiety, it’s understandable that for some, motivation for learning can fluctuate or be obscured.

Although motives are situated within the learner and are highly individual, teachers’ actions have the potential to positively influence students’ experience of four key motivational elements: goals, desire, attitude and effort. 

When I’m highly anxious I feel…
Nervous, fearful, tense, worried, irritable, anxious, perfectionistic,
impending danger or doom, slighted by feedback, unworthy,
unconfident, silent, unmotivated,
unable to concentrate ……

Using John Keller’s ARCS Model as a framework, the strategies below can support students to sustain their motivation to learn.

Attention

Designing for attention and engagement sustains learning, makes it enjoyable and memorable and builds loyalty and commitment to the course, thus reinforcing motivation.

While boredom is a big de-motivator, activities which engage students, and which acknowledge who they are, and where they are as learners, have a high chance of gaining and sustaining the commitment necessary for continued learning. 

Try: games; video; guest speakers, especially inspirational and former students as well as those working in the field, guest lecturers, friendly challenges, stimulus questions, debates, surveys, virtual field trips

Relevance

Adults learners do best when the content is relevant to their past experiences and/or present concerns, and the learning process is relevant to life experiences.

Relevance enables students to personally connect to the content and can affirm the goals and outcomes they are motivated to achieve.

Do:  know key data about your student cohort; support students to reflect on their relevant life experiences within the course; make strong links between content and its use in the world; frequently invite students to align content to their personal goals

Confidence

Although student confidence can ebb and flow as new learning is mastered and other learning challenges begin, supporting students to feel confidence in their institution, their course, their teachers and in themselves as students, contributes to sustained motivation.

For many students, as initial motives are replaced over the course of their study, a sense of confidence in their capacity enhances goal setting and underpins their motivation.   

Promote:  feedback which combines realism about specific tasks with overarching optimism about capabilities in general; discussion about developing a growth mind set; access to resources for assistance and support; stories about other students’ experiences and successes, connection with mentors and fellow students; strategies which enable students to become self-aware learners.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction relates to the extent to which a learner’s goals are being attained and is, therefore, closely linked to motive. For many students, their feelings of satisfaction derive from the formal and informal interpersonal aspects of learning, as well as their academic achievement. 

Ensure that: timely feedback is consistently provided to students, students feel part of a supportive learning community, celebration and acknowledgement of success and achievement are integral to the course, students know how they best learn; students know both how to improve and what improvement looks like, students know what lies ahead in the course and so can plan for learning as a part of their lives.

Tips about motivation for your students 
Know what drives you.
Consider writing your goals down so that you can see them.
It’s ok and usual for motives to change over time.
It’s normal to experience both intrinsic (I love this subject) and extrinsic (I want to get a good mark) motivation together.
Our sense of motivation usually has a social need which we often don’t recognise.
Motivation doesn’t flow at a constant level; be self-knowing about how and why it ebbs and flows for you.

Author: Lyn Dunn

February 2021

References

Brundage, Donald H 1980, Adult learning principles and their application to program planning, Ministry of Education, Ontario.  

Fosmire, Michael, 2014, ‘What I’ve been reading. But do they care? Pintrich on motivation in learning’, in Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, Winter 2014, <http://www.istl.org/14-winter/reading.html>

Hartnett, M et al 2011, ‘Examining motivation in online distance learning environments: complex, multifaceted and situation-dependent’, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(6), pp 20-38.

Hogle, P 2017, ‘ARCS Model aids in designing for motivation’, Blog 20 November, viewed 23 January 2021, <https://learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/2523/arcs-model-aids-in-designing-for-motivation>

MacIntyre, Peter D 2002, ‘Motivation, anxiety and emotion in second language acquisition,’ in Peter Robinson (ed), Individual differences and instructed language learning, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Philadelphia, pp.46 -68.

Morgan, MM 2020, ‘Student engagement: 5 strategies to motivate the online learner (Updated July 2020)’, blog 31 July, viewed 23 January 2021,<https://blog.blackboard.com/student-engagement-strategies-motivate-online-learner>

Myers, Lucas 2015, ‘Why adult learning anxiety is like learning to fish in Phoenix’, blog 21 February, viewed 23 January 2021,<https://www.csamsandiego.com/blog/2015/2/21/why-adult-learning-anxiety-is-like-learning-to-fish-in-phoenix>

Science Daily 2009, ‘Anxiety’s hidden cost in academic performance’, blog 26 June, viewed 23 January 2021 <https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090623090713.htm>

University of Technology Sydney 2020, ‘Improving motivation’ blog 17 April 2020, viewed 23 January 2021 <https://www.uts.edu.au/current-students/support/health-and-wellbeing/counselling-service-and-self-help/self-help-resources/improving-motivation>

Wilcox, Luke 2017, ‘Top 5 Strategies for motivating students’, Blog 6 June, viewed 23 January 2021, <https://www.lukewilcox.org/blog/2017/6/6/top-5-strategies-for-motivating-students>