How to Keep Yourself Motivated as an Independent Learner

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  • 0:01 Independent Learner
  • 1:02 Mindset
  • 3:35 Environment
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Being an independent learner can be difficult, and many people find that it is hard to keep their momentum throughout a self-guided course. This lesson offers tips on how to change your mindset and environment in order to stay motivated.

Independent Learner

Charlotte is going back to school, but things are different this time. She's older and she works full-time, so she's taking online classes to get her degree.

But, Charlotte has noticed a pattern. When the semester starts, she's excited and very motivated to do well and learn a lot. But as the semester wears on, she loses her motivation and drive. What's going on?

Charlotte is an independent learner, or someone who is in charge of his or her own learning experience. Independent learners don't have anyone standing over them, making sure that they are studying or doing their work. They often have less guidance and contact with advisors than traditional students do.

One issue that faces many independent learners is that of motivation. Like Charlotte, many independent learners want to do well, but as they are often very busy, it's hard to keep highly motivated. Let's look at two areas that Charlotte can work on in order to keep motivated: mindset and environment.


Charlotte usually starts out very motivated, but as the semester wears on, her motivation wanes. She finds that life gets in the way, and she just doesn't have the same drive to do well as she did earlier in the semester.

There are many things that are outside of Charlotte's control: her professors, her assignments, her degree requirements. But one thing that Charlotte definitely has control over is her mindset, or the way that she thinks about things and, as an extension, the way she approaches things.

For example, let's say that Charlotte doesn't understand something in the assigned readings for her class. She thinks she should email her professor and ask him to explain it to her, but she's worried. Shouldn't she understand that on her own? Isn't it a failure to be confused?

Instead, Charlotte should remind herself that failure and confusion are opportunities to learn and build skills. By asking questions, she will understand better, and grow as a learner. If she just stays quiet because she's afraid of looking dumb, she will never grow and learn. Just by changing her mindset, Charlotte has made it possible for her to grow.

Tied in with mindset are specific strategies that Charlotte can use to help keep her motivated. For example, one of Charlotte's professors assigns a huge, 20-page paper. Charlotte's never had to write anything so long before! One way to approach large tasks like this one is to break big tasks into smaller chunks. Charlotte could set a goal to write an outline first, and then write one section of the paper at a time. That way, she doesn't have to think about it as a 20-page paper, but as a series of smaller assignments that will eventually get her to the final finish line.

Charlotte can also set up rewards and consequences to keep herself motivated. Remember the big paper that Charlotte's working on? She can reward herself along the way. For example, she could reward herself with a night out with friends after she finishes the outline, a manicure when she finishes the first section, and so on. When she finishes the whole paper, she might buy herself a new dress or reward herself in another similarly big way.

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