Motivating Online Learning through Project-Based Learning During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic

Avneet Hira, Boston College, Massachusetts, USA
Emma Anderson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts, USA
Published: April 2, 2021

Citation: Hira, A., & Anderson, E. (2021). Motivating Online Learning through Project-Based Learning During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, 9(2).


The transition of traditional schooling to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted formal school education. Though at home, teachers and students continued teaching and learning in socially distant ways using online technologies. From various teacher surveys, only about 60% of students in the United States regularly engaged with learning activities. Teachers and parents also expressed a significant need for help to keep students motivated and engaged in learning activities. During the pandemic, online learning left teachers and parents needing support for learning activities that motivate and engage students. Project-based learning is an increasingly popular pedagogical practice centered around students working collaboratively on projects while the teacher facilitates learning activities and progression. Project-based learning embodies several factors considered central to motivation in online learning. In this paper, we inquire how this approach presents itself as a candidate for learning during the pandemic when considering students’ motivation to learn through online learning experiences. We construct a conceptual framework informed by motivational theories that share core tenets with this form of learning and use the framework to analyze interviews of 11 teachers from 4 schools that taught with a project-based learning approach before the pandemic and transitioned to teaching, using it online, in the Spring of 2020. From our analyses of the teachers’ narratives, we discuss teaching aspects of the approach that lend themselves well to online teaching, elements that the teachers believe are missing, and how educators might cater to these missing aspects with a focus on student motivation to learn.


COVID-19, motivation, online learning, project-based learning