This is Part Four of a six-part series of articles based on the results of a school year 2020-21 essay contest related to a scholarship contest sponsored by International Virtual Learning Academy (, a division of Global Student Network ( The question posed was: “What was the most significant takeaway you believe students learned about online education during the coronavirus pandemic?”  

We extracted ten important lessons learned about online school in Part One and addressed those ten issues individually in Part Two and Part Three.  Part Four focuses on what surfaced as the main “lesson learned” by survey respondents – motivation and self-discipline.  


In May 2021, PBS Newshour aired a documentary titled “Disrupted: How COVID Changed Education.”  The program was produced by the PBS Newshour’s Teen Student Reporting Lab.  PBS stated the purpose of the program in this way: 

 “To explore the hard questions facing education in America, we spoke to teens, parents and educators to understand what they’ve been through and to explore the changes they hope to see as we move into our new normal.”

Two stories particularly stood out to us.  One was a 16-year-old girl who ended up having to leave school for three months because her parents were both out of work, so she had to work to support the family. “I was the one working,” she said.  “Working and school – you don’t really retain anything.” Then, to make matters worse, she herself contracted COVID and was sick for three weeks.  At the end of the ordeal, her parents had been able to find work and were now financially stable.  She reported that “I learned to appreciate who I was, and I learned to appreciate the little things and be grateful for what I have.  Even when you’re pushed down so many times,” she said, “you can still get back up and get back up even stronger.”

The second story is about a 17-year-old student who had to work through online education with his younger autistic brother. The boys’ parents were both working out of the home and were unable to assist with the virtual process for either boy.  The autistic child was moved to at-home virtual education from his daily special ed atmosphere where he had been receiving continuous support and friendship.  His older brother, by default, had to take on these roles.  When asked whether the past year’s online experience was positive or negative, the 17-year-old replied “There was some good and some bad. I learned a lot about my brother. The positive thing was that I had some time for myself so I could teach myself electronics.”



I learned to seize every opportunity. While I could have done nothing other than sleep, eat, and study. I used my extra time to create a non-profit. Our charity, The Cool Cat Club is established in the Birmingham area. We created our own website and started visiting hospitals on Sept. 9th. Since then we have grown to ten local hospitals as well as Red Mountain Grace. We bring comfortable goods and financial aid to those we serve. We hear of terrible situations where mothers have to choose between paying rent, buying groceries, or paying their medical bills but because of us, we can relieve some of that burden. Not only do we care for them financially but also emotionally. We have a care cart and pen-pal program to build relationships with patients.”

“Online learning reveals how well you can handle school without teachers or authority watching what you do.  Students have different points about online learning. Some can handle it and are okay, while others are struggling, getting depressed and feel that the school system does not care about their student’s well- being rather than their grades.”

“Another thing that students have learned is the importance of self-motivation. While most students are still getting their education through virtual learning, it can be hard to motivate oneself to get out of bed in the morning and do schoolwork when you have the option of turning off your camera, microphone and taking a nap. Mental health can be a burden and being alone and trying to keep up with assignments can be a hard task.”

“As students adjusted [to online learning], they strengthened their own capabilities to learn more independently and became in some cases, almost self-sufficient learners. This skill would not have been possible without the required adjustments to online learning but will likely allow students to find the normal learning environment to be much easier next year.”

In order to be successful, students had to learn how to be self-motivated. Self-motivation is a hard thing to come by naturally. It is created through extreme resolve and self-discipline. The circumstances and burdens placed upon students during the pandemic gave them the unique opportunity to develop this. Although learning at home may seem easier, it is much more difficult to work and learn in the same place you find comfort. To overcome this, students had to put in full effort. Online students had to learn to develop willpower quickly.”

“I feel the challenge of online school helped motivate people to learn to adapt to change. The students who were able to learn how to alter their study habits and class preparations to be most successful in each course saw the most improvement overall in their performance in their classes. Students who may not have been engaged in person were forced to be self-motivated for the sake of their grade. Although quite a stressful way to learn how to organize coursework, it was a valuable lesson many students will come to find highly beneficial when we return to in-person schooling.”

“Online education requires planning and discipline. It requires building positive work habits that are not seen in a traditional classroom. Students quickly learned that they don’t have their teachers or friends to make sure they are on time. Students had to build their own routines that worked for them, and they had to do it quickly.”


Just a reminder that the comments we chose to feature in this article represent a small sampling of hundreds of comments received.  All comments and observations were drawn directly from responses to the essay question.  Based on student privacy requirements, quotations and comments are listed anonymously.

If you’re interested in reading more articles based on comments from over 700 students that responded to the essay contest challenge, let us know at _______________________ and we’ll find a way to create a condensed version of the great information we received!



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