The challenges of shifting to online learning have been well-documented. Having hundreds of students enrolled in online classes means thousands of hours are being spent watching videos, scrolling through webpages, and typing up projects. While this lifestyle is a reality for many office workers, a life lived online comes with many problems.
Online learning is bad for mental health, plain and simple.
Experts have long warned us about the effects of prolonged screen time. Using screens for hours a day can trigger physical health problems stemming from headaches to blurred vision while also disrupting sleep cycles and shortening attention spans.
The current workload for students is heavy. They can easily spend upwards of five hours parked in front of their tablet or computer, in addition to recreational screen time. With it being no secret that us young people are almost always on our phones and social media, it seems online learning is exacerbating bad habits.
Even worse is that students’ attention spans seem to be getting shorter. On campus, fast-paced lectures and the presence of other students create a sense of accountability. At home, lecture videos can be paused whenever and played at 1.5x speed, testing the limits of self-control. It’s hard to sit through a boring history video without being tempted to put Netflix on in the background.
The lack of personal connection isn’t helping, either. Lectures and tutorials delivered over Zoom present few opportunities for students to engage their peers and professors. More often than not, students aren’t even listening. For those who feel anxious in an unfamiliar online environment, having your face broadcasted to an entire Zoom group is enough to scare even the most skilled public speakers.
Online learning has also changed grading. Now, final grades are frequently based solely on one or two large projects and an exam with no room for tutorial participation. This encourages cramming by placing focus only these large assignments; learning is beginning to feel more like checking boxes than an opportunity to think critically.
This all amounts to a depressing, distracting, and frustrating student experience. Going through the same mindless routine every day can be discouraging, especially with lockdown measures making it harder to stay active and impossible to de-stress through socializing.
For a generation of students with already record-high levels of suicidal thoughts, COVID-19 and online learning are a dangerous duo. Post-secondary institutions are trying to provide resources for their struggling students, but unfortunately, they’re all online, too. The last thing a student feeling anxious and overwhelmed wants is another Zoom meeting.
Fortunately, this online learning problem is not without solutions.
It starts with creating regimented class schedules. The nature of asynchronous lectures makes it far too easy to push them to the end of the week or skip them entirely. When the work eventually piles up, it creates burnout and stress. Scheduling online courses how you would schedule in-person classes can be incredibly helpful.
Avoiding social media and unnecessary screens can help, too. By avoiding the temptation to check Snapchat or watch YouTube videos between lectures, we’re better positioned to handle the necessary screen exposure. Taking up a hobby like reading or playing chess—anything that stimulates the brain—can facilitate good habits and improved health.
Schools and professors can create more interactive classes by incorporating live lectures and tutorials into their weekly plans. Having general activities that allow students to interact with one another will make online learning more like being back in class.
Online learning might be unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. We have the power to turn it into a positive experience that will prepare us for adulthood.
Dante is a second-year Arts & Science student.
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