Rachel Cain

Primary Teacher

Wishaw Academy Primary

  • Digital Learning: Pupil Engagement

What happens to engagement in online learning when a reward system is introduced?


During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, schools have faced periods of closure with teaching being moved from the physical in-classroom environment to online. A major challenge facing the teaching profession has been how to motivate children to engage in online learning. In a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research in May 2020, it was found that teachers in England were in regular contact with around 60% of their pupils during online learning, with only 42% of their pupils submitting their most recently-assigned work (Lucas, Nelson & Sims, 2020). It has also been highlighted that children from well-off backgrounds are likely to spend more time engaging in online learning activities than those from poorer backgrounds (Andrew et al., 2020; Cullinane and Montacute, 2020) which could further widen the attainment gap between children from high-income families and low-income families (Sosu and Ellis, 2014). Taking into account these recent engagement statistics and their potential impact, particularly on children from poorer families, it is clear that finding ways to encourage children to participate in online learning is vital. 

Studies have shown the impact that reward systems can have on classroom management and motivation. In a 1985 study by Pfiffner, Rosén, and O’Leary, it was found that positive reinforcement in the form of praise alone was not effective in increasing pupil’s ‘on-task’ behaviour, however when a reward system was implemented engagement in these behaviours improved and remained consistent. Alfie Kohn (1999) has suggested that those who are more intrinsically motivated will perform better in school. Indeed, both Kohn (1999) and Deci, Koestner and Ryan (2001) have argued that using extrinsic rewards in the classroom can negatively impact children’s intrinsic motivation. Judy Cameron (2001) opposes this view, stating that extrinsic rewards used appropriately in the classroom can have a positive effect on both student motivation and performance. As of yet, there has been little academic research documenting the effects of using a reward system on student engagement in online learning. This enquiry chose to focus its research on this area, particularly in light of the current, unprecedented situation. 


The aim of the enquiry was to assess the impact of an online reward system on online learning engagement.  

Download Practitioner Enquiry