Solving the COVID-19 Conundrum: Using Maslow’s Hierarchy to Meet Students’ Needs

By Leonard Newby, Kimberly Stormer, and Desmond Delk

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed first responders, doctors, grocers, and other essential workers valiantly respond to the COVID-19 crisis that is ravaging the globe. Teachers and university faculty have adapted virtual-learning experiences to ensure continuity of instruction, in addition to addressing the social, emotional, and physical needs of our students. Here we highlight how three faculty members found technological tools that focused on the importance of relationships as a tenet of social–emotional learning, which insists instructors position Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the underlying framework for their instructional practices rather than Bloom’s Taxonomy to engage students who faced a double pandemic (Bloom, 1956; Maslow, 1954). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies a person’s motivation as fulfilling needs in five areas: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Traditional settings allow teachers to detect students’ met and unmet needs. However, in an online environment where some students are already disenfranchised, it may be difficult to assess their needs and respond appropriately. Our team provided an online community that recreated the safety and security of traditional class and office settings. While remaining in contact with one another via Zoom, texting, and email, we discussed the methods each of us used as our students continued to express their frustrations with their new contexts. We found that much of the technology we used fit the tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Physiological needs refer to the essentials of everyday life, such as food, sleep, and shelter. In the online environment, we moved to attempting all methods of contact through their phones. Given our students’ varied access to computers and wifi, we expanded our perceptions of making learning accessible rather than adding to their drought of essential technology needs. 
  • Safety needs refer to one’s personal security. Our original synchronous learning platform resulted in students being inundated with downloading software that either took up too much space on their hard drive, or they didn’t understand, regardless of tutorials, how to download it. So we tried to find applications that enabled students to video chat, text chat, or dial in to participate in synchronous sessions. Zoom became our go-to source . They felt proficient with it because it integrated well with their phone. We also moved beyond our need to enforce strict assessment practices on overburdened students by opting not to use lockdown browsers. 
  • Love and belonging refers to the human interaction that all social creatures crave. As we spoke with students who were having difficulties engaging with content during the COVID hiatus, many of them expressed their dismay with asynchronous learning. They often felt like instructors put up “busy work” for them to complete. Some of the nontraditional students expressed they not only had to do the mounds of work from their online classes, but they also had the same issue with their children’s teachers who made a Google Classroom but never showed up to class. Students were missing the emotional connection from being with their peers and us. We explored the use of GroupMe and Houseparty. Both of these free social networking services, one via text and one via video chat, enabled students to communicate with one another, hold each other accountable for completing assignments, collaborate in study groups, and talk with instructors who experienced the same anxiety and assured them we were there to support them. 
  • Esteem refers to the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. There were times when students needed quick assurance while completing assignments. When we were unable to be at our computers, students contacted us through Google Voice. The ability to provide feedback and solutions after-hours allowed us to reassure our students when they struggled with concepts or when they needed praise for correct answers. Furthermore, Zoom Breakout Sessions enabled social learning and knowledge validation when students worked together to complete projects.  

COVID-19, although an anomaly, will have lasting effects on the field of education. This impact, however, doesn’t excuse teachers from creating learning experiences that place students’ social–emotional needs before academic achievement. Modeling these techniques for our preservice teachers equips them with skills to become self-actualized teachers in traditional and online environments. 

Dr. Newby is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Langston University. Dr. Newby specializes in theoretical and applied aspects of learning and dedicates his expertise to elevating student motivation to excel and thrive in and outside of educational settings.

Dr. Stormer is the Department Chair of Education and Professional Programs at Langston University. Her research agenda includes the writing habits of underrepresented populations and preservice teachers’ culturally relevant teaching dispositions.

Dr. Delk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University. His research focuses on diversity in kinesiology graduate programs, physical activity engagement of HBCU students, and multicultural physical education.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Co. 

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper. 

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