Online Learning & Mental Health

Jul 20 2021 | Insights

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 are packed with 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, 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, likely driven in part 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, online learning is here to stay, with the intention of protecting learners and trainers from the pandemic that is still lingering.

But staying 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 slowly starting to rear its ugly head.

A main blow to mental health is the isolation we face when studying at home. This affects both students and employees. 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. The numbers show that students are struggling with online learning and it’s not only a problem for the younger generation. 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, since it requires technologies like Zoom that are limited by number of connected users.

Luckily, we can use different techniques to introduce more interaction in online learning. This includes both instructor-student and student-student interactions. 

Instructor-to-student interactions

Instructors and students should maintain a stronger relationship in order to develop a sense of community. Learning will feel more like a regular academic course and there are more feedback opportunities for the learner. Instructors are starting to experiment with different technologies in order to encourage interaction. Live webinar sessions, instant messaging programs, and interactive learning activities are just a few of the possible solutions to building strong instructor-student connections! 

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, making on-the-spot changes as the course progresses and ultimately, helping participants learn more quickly and efficiently.

Student-to-student interactions

Student-to-student interaction is key in helping students 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.

Everyone learns differently, but options 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, it’s clear these connections need to be strengthened to avoid the isolation that causes student 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 the go-to platform to access online learning and catch up with students and instructors. Any student can become part of the online discussions relating to their courses, and it also allows for text-based communication through instant messaging programs with no need for bigger devices like laptops.

That being said, while face-to-face learning can help the mental health concerns online learning comes with, it isn’t the most optimal solution for learning efficiency. The best approach is a blended one, combining the pros of face-to-face learning and online learning. Offering a completely personalized course is key. This 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 that works best for them. 

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