Opinion: Motivation: a fatal flaw of e-learning

Harvey Wang, Correspondent

It’s December 2020. The pain of online learning has forced itself upon all of us. Bloodshot eyes, aching backs and cracking necks plague students just as much as tedious meetings and looming deadlines. Yet these physical challenges are only part of the struggle– students’ mindsets while at home also impede their learning. 

That is, we are simply less motivated to learn at home. 

One reason for the lack of motivation is the absence of community. Like runners training in groups or swimmers practicing as a team, students tend to put in more effort when they are surrounded by others who are also working hard. This phenomenon is known as the Kohler Effect. In a 1920 experiment, German psychologist Otto Kohler found that groups of two to three people were more persistent in lifting a bar of weights than the same people lifting by themselves, demonstrating that motivation to perform is higher for each individual when they perform in a group. This effect has since been proven in numerous studies. 

According to research by Michigan State University, when one compares themselves to others and feel like they are performing worse on similar tasks, most tend to become more motivated. In the classroom, students compete in everything from test grades to answering teachers’ questions, and from seeing others score higher or answer a question they don’t know, students unconsciously strive to be just as good, if not better. This competition is lacking when classes are online, as students are less able to observe their peers’ actions, such as actively taking notes, paying attention to the teacher and earning high grades on tests, thus decreasing their motivation. 

Pressure to focus from peers and teachers greatly diminishes in an online environment. I vividly remember when I turned bright red after one of my teachers fixed an icy glare upon me and asked me to stop watching “Top Ten Ways To Cook An Egg” in front of the whole class. And I’m not even the worst offender.  I’ve talked to two friends in the past week who have finished entire seasons of “The Office” during school. Snapchat group chats are usually more active during class than the Zoom chat. When disciplinary consequences of distraction are virtually unattainable, students become less motivated to focus in class.

“[Learning] online allows me to turn my camera off,” said junior Jonathan Wu. “That relieves me of the social construct that expects me to listen in class.”

Despite these challenges, there are still ways to stay motivated during the pandemic. After all, the strongest motivation comes from within. Let us remind ourselves of our ultimate goals and take actions to achieve them. Let us reach out to friends and be there for each other. Let us remember that all struggles are temporary, and we will come out stronger than ever before.