Online Learning & Mental Health
Research and experience increasingly shows that online learning can lead to a number of mental health challenges due to the isolation we face. Ezra discusses potential solutions to pre-empting and successfully tackling these issues so that virtual learners do not become silent sufferers.
Online and virtual learning provides a plethora of benefits in terms of accessibility of education and ease of use. Almost anyone can just go on the internet, search for an online course in a subject they’re interested in, then sign up and immediately start developing new skills.
In fact, statistics show that the online learning industry is expected to surpass $370 billion by 2026. This is astonishing growth that has likely been spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021. With social distancing becoming more common and schools limiting face-to-face exposure, there has been a need for digital-focused learning solutions that can be utilized at home.
The flaws of online learning
It’s becoming very apparent that there are many mental health issues that stem from the cons of online learning. In a study carried out on college students, 75% reported feeling more anxious or stressed due to their online learning experiences. With so few colleges reopening across the nation, it’s clear that online learning is here to stay with the intention of protecting learners and trainers from the pandemic that is still lingering.
It’s clear that staying at home doesn’t help with our mental health. Even adult workers are experiencing issues with around 69% of employees experiencing burnout symptoms at home. These statistics show that something needs to be done to address the mental health crisis that is slowly starting to rear its head.
A big part of this is due to the isolation we face when studying at home. This affects both students and employees that work from home. In a survey carried out in May 2020, 61% of students felt they had an increase in feelings of loneliness. 43% said they were facing depression, and another 55% said they had increased anxiety. This indicates that students are definitely struggling with online learning and it’s not a problem exclusive to the younger population. Adults aren’t immune to the effects of isolation and this is just as much a problem for working professionals as it is for students.
Introducing more interaction to online learning
One of the best solutions to tackle these growing mental health issues with online learning is to find more ways to introduce interaction. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen an implementation that is effective or scalable yet. For example, 67% of organizations moved to face-to-face training classes at the start of the pandemic, but this dropped to 36% a few months later because face-to-face training doesn’t translate well in an online learning environment. It’s also not a scalable solution because it requires technology such as Zoom that still faces limitations due to the number of connected users.
Fortunately, there are other ways to introduce more interaction to online learning. This includes instructor and student interaction but also involves student-to-student interactions as well.
Instructors and students should maintain a stronger relationship in order to develop a sense of community. It makes the learning experience feel more like a regular academic course and also provides valuable feedback to the learner. Instructors are starting to experiment with different technologies in order to encourage interaction. For example, they might host live webinar sessions where they can interact with their students, they might set up an instant messaging program so students and instructors can interact, and they might have interactive learning activities that can take place online.
Instructors are also starting to take on more feedback, especially if it relates to the student’s personal experiences, their academic goals, or even the quality of the course they’re offering. This allows instructors to take on live feedback to help them improve the way their course progresses, allowing them to make changes that ultimately help participants learn more quickly and efficiently.
Student-to-student interaction is also important since it allows them to share ideas, discuss topics related to their studies, and even build long-lasting relationships with their classmates. This is usually encouraged through online discussion boards and instant messaging programs. It allows for collaborative work and can encourage group-based activities to help build social skills and deal with feelings of isolation.
While everyone has their preferred way of learning, giving the option to interact more with both instructors and other students can tackle some of the biggest flaws that come with online learning. While many online courses currently don’t utilize the power of student and instructor interactions, this is a trend that will certainly improve over time as it becomes clear that isolating students can cause mental health problems.
Can technology bridge the communication gap?
One of the most promising solutions to help create and encourage more interpersonal interaction is technology. Smartphones are becoming the go-to platform both to access online learning and to interact with students and instructors. It allows any student to participate in online discussions relating to their courses, and it also allows for text-based communication through instant messaging programs without needing a bigger device such as a computer or laptop.
However, it’s important to note that while face-to-face learning is effective at dealing with the mental health concerns that online learning comes with, it isn’t the most optimal solution for learning efficiency. The best approach would be a blended one that combines the pros of face-to-face learning and online learning. The key here is to offer a completely personalized course that gives students the option to interact with their instructor and other students if they want to. Otherwise, they’re free to access their study materials and never speak to their instructor if they prefer not to.
Promoting interaction is key
Online and virtual learning certainly comes with a vast number of benefits, but there are pitfalls to be aware of. One of the most problematic issues is coping with the mental health issues surrounding the isolation that we experience when learning from home. Thankfully, as technology improves and we become more connected, we can overcome those concerns and encourage more interpersonal interaction with face-to-face solutions that utilize technology.