Inside the Classroom

Setting Online Learning Goals with Students

Regardless of how a student learns—in a traditional setting, online, by doing—a great first step for ensuring success is setting learning goals. Because everyone is different, figuring out learning goals can help to both offer internal motivation to students and show students the value of learning (because who hasn’t heard the question, “When am I ever going to use this?”).

When learning is self-directed, setting goals is even more important because students have to rely more on themselves to ensure they’re learning. For every student who chunks out the work involved in a semester-long project, 10 more students wait until the week before the project is due to start it. (Guilty!) And because online learning is often more self-directed, setting online learning goals can be critical to student success.

So how can we help students set good goals for their online learning? It’s not that different than it is for traditional learning. It starts with offering guidance, monitoring progress, reflecting, and celebrating achievements.

To start, make sure students know what a goal is and what it means to have one (or more).

This is particularly important for younger students. If a student doesn’t understand what a goal is, they’ll struggle to work toward meeting it and being successful. Fortunately, goal-setting is a skill, which means it can be taught, so start by teaching your students about goals, the same way you might teach reading or math. No matter their age, your students will have already met some goals, so look for examples from their own lives that you can use to explain goals and goal-setting.

Next, teach students how to set good goals.

There’s a world of difference between easy, “gimme” goals and impossible-to-achieve goals, so make sure students understand this. Students should be setting online learning goals that offer some degree of challenge, but aren’t impossible to meet. One way to help ensure students are setting good goals is to have one main end goal with several progress-related goals that they’ll meet throughout the process of meeting the main one. And consider teaching students about SMART goals, which can help them create clear and reasonable goals.

Once goals are set, monitor and document the process of meeting them.

It’s possible goals will need to change after students have begun working toward meeting them, so it’s best for both student and teacher to monitor progress. This way, goal adjustments can be made if needed so students can still be successful even if something has changed.

If students are not meeting goals, reflect on possible reasons for that.

This could be happening for a number of reasons. Maybe the student is struggling to understand a concept and can’t move forward without assistance. Or they don’t understand the expectations placed on them for online learning. Whatever the case may be, there’s a reason why they’re not meeting their goals, so do some digging to figure that out.

And as students meet goals, celebrate!

Though most experts would agree that the feeling of accomplishment is more valuable than a tangible reward, there’s nothing wrong with strategically rewarding students with praise and/or goods. This can be especially useful for younger students, and when larger goals are met. Utilizing classroom webpages and social media accounts, you can create a tracking system, like a chart with stickers, so that students can see their progress. And since celebrating achievements virtually requires some creativity, we’ve shared some tips for doing so.

At the end of the day, it’s most important that students understand why and how to set goals, as well as how to monitor progress toward achieving those goals. Making progress toward meeting goals is really important, so if goals aren’t met, make sure students understand that they have not failed, and that making progress is its own goal. How do you help students with setting online learning goals? Tell us on Twitter or Facebook!


Ackerman, C. E. (2019, November 20). Goal setting for students, kids, & teens (incl. worksheets & templates).

Barile, N. (2015, January 20). 10 tips for setting successful goals with students.

Barrett, L. (2019, August 20). How to do goal setting with your students this school year.

Elias, M. J. (2019, November 14). A framework for student goal-setting.

About the Author


Laura Almozara

As a child, Laura spent a lot of time reading and telling stories, at one point reading a new book every day. She took that interest with her to college, where she studied English and journalism. She then started working in publishing and eventually made her way to edtech. Laura is excited to be a part of the Where Learning Clicks team, helping to provide innovative education tools to some of the people who need them most.