Malsow before Bloom in Online Higher Education Courses

Streamed Session

Brief Abstract

“Maslow before Bloom’ calls for educators to meet learners’ basic needs before striving for academic outcomes.  Common in residential settings, such motivational strategies are scarce in online tertiary environments.   Using Maslow’s (1943) theory, recognize the needs of adult learners and gain practical strategies to meet these needs in online environments.


Kristen Walley has over 15 years experience working with children, families, and educators across multiple public and private programs. Kristen currently supports beginning and continuing early childhood education professionals through higher education as an Assistant Professor for the School of Education with Rasmussen University. Her work includes adult training and education, curriculum and program development including competency-based education, and curriculum alignment to state and national standards. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Curriculum Leadership with a focus on learner motivation in various educational formats and settings. Kristen is passionate about recognizing the investment of educators who support our earliest learners through developmentally appropriate practice while motivating all students to invest in themselves as life-long learners.

Extended Abstract

“Maslow before Bloom’ is a common phrase calling for educators to meet learners’ basic human needs before striving for academic outcomes. In Maslow-driven K-12 settings, educators might bring in refreshments to share during brain breaks. Smiling teachers stand at the door, welcoming the learners into the space with the ‘Hello, High-Five, or Hug’ strategy. They might fill the classroom walls with positive messages and arrange desks in pods to encourage community. Together, the educators and learners create a social contract outlining rules and respect. 

While common in residential, elementary, and secondary education settings, such motivational strategies can be scarce in online tertiary environments.  However, adult learners also have basic needs that must be addressed before they can be fully present in their academic journey. Compounding the issue is the physical distance between learners, their peers, their instructor, and their institution. In online learning environments, basic needs can be overlooked or undetected. 

In this session, participants will explore the motivation of the adult learner through the lens of Maslow’s (1943) theory of the Hierarchy of Human Needs. Participants will learn to recognize the various needs of learners and select strategies to meet and motivate them them.

Included in the 5-minute welcome introduction will be several implicit and explicit strategies to support the participant’s basic needs. These strategies will be uncovered and examined throughout the 35-minute main presentation, encouraging the participants to reflect on their own needs and the possible needs of their learners.

Approximately 5-7 minutes of the presentation will be spent summarizing the work of Abraham Maslow, specifically as it relates to the Hierarchy of Human Needs (1943) and motivation (1970). Then, participants will ‘meet’ online learners and role-play common scenarios in online higher education environments to reveal the adult learner's needs, which must be addressed before focusing strictly on academic outcomes. Throughout the presentation, participants will be guided to evidence-based teaching practices and practical examples to incorporate into their online environments.

The session will conclude with 5 minutes for question and answer before leaving participants with a final “What if..” question as a motivational takeaway.

By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

·   Recommend strategies to create a safe and motivating learning environment for all learners

·   Determine opportunities in online courses to elicit engagement by supporting learners’ basic needs.

·   Select educational practices to build a community of learners in online courses



Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row.