Can virtual learning cause anxiety?

COVID-19 has had a rapid and dramatic impact on many people’s lives. Sadly, teenagers and young adults may be among those most affected by the virus.

While student and teacher safety is paramount, online learning can trigger anxiety disorders in students. Everyone, from students, teachers, and professors, is affected by online learning. Virtual classes may exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and mental health disorders in many students. Others may experience new changes in anxiety and mood as a result of the pandemic and online learning.

Increased Stress & Anxiety

Aside from the lack of social interaction, the online class structure can have a variety of effects on students:

  • They may experience increased anxiety about keeping up with their schoolwork; • Other teenagers may have trouble concentrating or staying focused at home; and • For some young adults, being videoed in front of others can cause anxiety.
  • It may be difficult for students to obtain the additional educational support they require to succeed.

As many people are aware, being a student can be difficult enough; however, additional pressures can amplify normal anxieties and stressors.

In what way can virtual learning cause anxiety?

The world appeared to change overnight. Teachers and administrators have had to redesign their entire instructional systems with only a day’s notice in many cases. To say that many of us are suffering from disorientation, whiplash, and anxiety would be an understatement.

Many students are feeling the same way. According to one study, one in every three young adults has experienced clinically significant anxiety at some point in their lives. It’s likely that during a pandemic that has a significant impact on everyday life, anxiety levels in students will be even higher, as will the possibility of subsequent trauma.

In these unprecedented times, teachers are creatively and quickly rising to the occasion to shift to remote learning amid school closures. Even in a physical classroom, it can be difficult to help students who have a history of anxiety and trauma stay calm and learn. This difficulty is exacerbated by distance learning. However, even when teaching remotely, teachers can do a lot to help students feel less anxious. Teachers must prioritize students’ mental health over academics during this crisis. Because the effects of trauma can last a lifetime, what students learn during this time isn’t as important as whether they feel completely safe.

When students are isolated from their school parents during a crisis or time of change, they must continue to feel safe, catered for, and connected. Strong relationships with teachers can keep anxious students from spiraling out of control.

Teachers all over the world are coming up with novel ways to stay in touch with their students. Many communities, for example, have held a “teacher parade,” in which educators drove through the neighborhood while students waved from their front doors. Teachers have also delivered school lunches door-to-door while taking safety precautions.

Connecting does not have to take a long time to be effective. A video of a teacher discussing a concept, doing a read-aloud, or posing a challenge question is an excellent way to help students feel connected to the teacher and the class. At the start of any class, greeting the students and expressly telling them that they miss them and can’t wait to see them again is an effective way to make them feel cared for.

Make efforts to connect with each student individually whenever possible. One supportive adult can aid students to surmount a very difficult home situation and alleviate their anxiety. A caring teacher’s connection can be a support system for a vulnerable student. Try using a cell phone-based messaging communication system like Remind—or traditional mail—for students who don’t have internet access.

Effect of online learning on mental health

The workload and learning load of implementing a new delivery model are creating a significant burden on the lives of those in higher education as they adapt to teaching and learning at a distance. This is a massive problem that is rapidly worsening. While some students thrive through online learning, the virus’s toll, increased workloads, isolation, and other associated effects are becoming more prevalent among several students, staff, and faculty members. It should not be undervalued. Every institution must address the threats to the well-being of its constituents.

Faculty members are under a lot of pressure to transform their classes into effective digital formats. Faculty members’ already complex responsibilities are exacerbated by the additional workload and anxiety that comes with it. The increased workload has raised concerns about faculty burnout. So many faculty members who are already on the verge of burnout due to the demands of teaching, advising, research, and publication face an emotional letdown or even collapse.

Many times, we separate the thought of mental health from the consideration of physical health. These two are inextricably linked. Physical health can deteriorate due to the mental and emotional strains that faculty and students may be under. Stress and anxiety can lower immunity, making people susceptible to illnesses other than the common cold. People who report high levels of self-reported distress are 32% more likely to die from cancer, and depression has been linked to heart disease. These are not insignificant effects. They are both life-changing and destructive.

The majority of students are under duress. For many people, the strain starts with their eyes. Those who are not used to squinting at poorly adjusted computer screens in poor lighting are subjected to eyestrain, which can have long-term consequences. Ophthalmologists advise taking 20-minute breaks from screen reading and adjusting room lighting to prevent glare and reflections.

Supporting online students’ mental health needs is a critical mission for all universities. The drastic lifestyle change can exacerbate loneliness, anxiety, and perhaps even depression. Faculty members are now on the front lines of identifying mental and emotional health problems. In most cases, nobody else is watching over the students. On-campus, those students may be observed informally by classmates, resident advisers, and other campus personnel who observe students daily. However, online, those students are frequently invisible to their peers, advisers, and others. They live in unnoticed anonymity. Faculty are frequently the first point of contact for online students. 

The COVID-19 crisis is imposing a serious burden, much of which is unaccounted for. However, it is clear from the start that the stresses are disparately placed on the shoulders of women.

Anxiety and online learning performance

Students experience a range of emotions in response to classroom activities and achievement outcomes, which can impact student success. Anxiety is one emotion that students experience, which can harm their performance and persistence.

Emotions are human responses to current, future, and past events, and they are always present in academic settings. These course-related emotions can help students by encouraging actions or reflections that improve their learning, motivation, and performance. That being said, not all emotions have a positive effect on student achievement. University students’ positive emotions include enjoyment, interest, hope, and pride, while negative emotions include anger, anxiety, frustration, and boredom. Anxiety has piqued the interest of undergraduate education researchers in recent years, owing to the rising prevalence of this emotion among students and teachers’ reports of anxiety linked with active-learning environments in undergraduate science classrooms.

Postsecondary pedagogical approaches are changing, with a noticeable shift toward enacting evidence‐based teaching methods in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classrooms. This shift is not without reason: these teaching methods, including active-learning pedagogies, improve exam performance and reduce course failure rates. Active-learning pedagogies have also been proposed as a means of improving student doggedness in STEM undergraduate majors. These findings are encouraging because less than 40% of freshman STEM majors complete a STEM degree. Nonetheless, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicted that an additional one million STEM graduates would be required over the next decade.

The expectation for active learning is that students will respond to the instructor’s questions in verbal, electronic, and written formats. Anxiety is associated with the expectation to respond (and possibly be judged on that response) for some students. Students, for instance, have expressed concern about cold calling. While students appreciated that this practice encouraged them to pay close attention, they did not enjoy being the center of attention, and its use demotivated some students from attending class on non–exam days. Students in introductory biology in England reported varying anxiety levels for different active-learning practices; answering verbal questions resulted in higher average anxiety than clicker questions or group work. Average student general class anxiety levels were higher in correlation with lower self-reported letter grades, and student intention to continue in the major was linked to lower anxiety levels. Active learning doesn’t often make students more anxious. Another research group, on the other hand, interacted with 52 students in large enrollment courses. It demonstrated that, depending on teacher implementation and perceived benefit to the student, group work and clicker questions could increase or decrease anxiety. Simultaneously, random/cold-call was often considered wrong.

Distance learning causing anxiety

Several higher education institutions worldwide have been forced to use alternative instructional methods to bridge the gap during these difficult times. As a result, online learning or e-learning platforms have been implemented to simulate a virtual classroom where the instructor and the student can engage and accomplish the curriculum’s learning outcomes remotely. To deliver the content to the students, platforms such as Zoom, Blackboard, Moodle, and Skype were used. Faculty members have been compelled to become acquainted with new teaching methods.

Over the last two decades, there has been a great deal of research into online learning in higher education institutions, where full courses and even full Bachelor and Masters programs have begun to be delivered via online platforms. Students enrolled in full-time instruction-based programs who were unfamiliar with such an experience, on the other hand, experienced system shock.

Although there was some confusion during the initial digital transition, an online class has advantages during quarantine periods when students can still catch up on their courses. However, certain topics are much more difficult to deliver online, particularly practical or even clinical aspects in majors related to the health sciences.

Many factors explain why university students may face specific difficulties and limitations due to e-learning, putting them in a stressful learning environment. University students are predisposed to developing stress disorders and depression. Because of the psychologically challenging conditions they face daily, such implications are expected to grow during COVID19 quarantine. Such students will be deprived of critical incentives to advance in their education or careers. Procrastination and feelings of worthlessness can be exacerbated by social isolation and reduced activity during quarantine. Understandably, the conditions may exacerbate anxiety and depression. The screen creates intense isolation, making it difficult for many people to engage in back-and-forth conversation, making it nearly impossible to provide constructive feedback without appearing to be speaking through a vacuum. Financial barriers may also prevent them from gaining access to technologies that will allow them to keep up with their online learning. Electricity and telecommunications deficits, for example, have been significant barriers to e-learning in many parts of the world.

The psychological impact of online learning

During this unprecedented period, online classes are expected to be in high demand as an alternative to institutional closure. Nonetheless, as a result of an ineffective learning approach, both teachers and students face many challenges and difficulties, including psychological issues. The success of e-Learning system implementation is dependent on how teachers and students carry out the program. Even though online teaching is one of the promising alternatives to the physical classroom, students have a negative perception of online learning behavior, which may be a significant cause of psychological distress. According to one study, students are anxious because they are bored in class. Course quality, technological ease, the usability of content, availability of technical assistance, and the possibility of interaction with peer students are all factors that contribute to e-Learning crack-up. The majority of e-Learning glitches are technological, with no software or hardware support available.

Nonetheless, some developing countries do not fully support e-Learning systems. Another cause of e-Learning failure is a lack of readiness knowledge in the implementation process. An internet-based meta-analysis concluded that current research shows that e-Learning is better than nothing and (on average) comparable to traditional training. In addition, a research study discovered that approximately 25% of students are suffering from severe anxiety as a result of the e-Learning crack-up. According to another study, approximately 83 percent of students are in the worst situation, and 26 percent do not have access to mental health support. This condition provides a situational demand for assessing psychological distress among college students due to their negative perception of the e-Learning system. However, no comprehensive research has been conducted into the psychological distress due to the negative viewpoint of e-Learning among college students during the pandemic.

According to recent research, students have uneven learning opportunities due to discrimination against better family facilities. Another study looked at digital disparities during the COVID-19 era. While most educational institutions are implementing online classes, the question remains how this approach benefits students from low-income families and those living in remote areas. According to a Pew Research Center study, an increasing number of students come from low-income families. According to research, there is a strong link between poverty and psychological stress. A lack of information technology resources primarily hampers them. Students from lower-income families have restricted or no access to online classes due to digital inequalities and a lack of access to modern technology. At the same time, high internet costs are another barrier to taking online classes.

Anxiety because of online classes

This fall, many colleges have abandoned most in-person lectures in favor of online and hybrid teaching. Students have adjusted to new routines and learning environments, but many have struggled to accept this new normal.

Schools should reconsider how they grade students during this tough period to account for students’ real health problems.

Just as students are willing to be flexible with teachers who are experimenting with online methods for the first time, it seems reasonable that teachers should be willing to be flexible with students as well. Teachers who adjust their expectations for the semester may find themselves with healthier, happier students.

The increased screen time of online classes and the lack of face-to-face interaction has negatively impacted many students’ physical and mental health. Increased screen time has been associated with anxiety, depression, and perceived attention issues.

Some students’ social anxiety has increased due to taking online classes, partly because online classes have increased the pressure to look presentable.

Many students are concerned about the webcam being too intrusive. When you speak, everyone is staring at a close-up of your face, and it feels like there is nowhere to hide. Many students are hyper-conscious of their looks on camera and are self-critical or self-conscious of how they appear on the screen.

Although video calls are an ideal solution for remote learning, they can harm one’s mental health. With back-to-back online classes, Zoom exhaustion has become a serious issue. Students may find video calls exhausting because they cannot process nonverbal cues like voice tone or body language.

This can result in awkward silences or decreased interaction during online classes, making it more difficult for students to ask questions, converse with professors, and engage students.

According to him, video calls make it easier than ever to lose focus due to the temptation to check social media during online lessons. The fact that students may be taking fewer breaks than previously is not helping, as relaxing can be a suitable way for students to reduce their stress and anxiety.

The stroll from the classroom or lecture hall can often be a great way for the brain to sit back and relax before the next class, which online lessons do not allow for.

Countless students are frustrated by video call delays, making technological problems a source of stress and anxiety for college students.

What are the disadvantages of online learning?

Offering online learning is a fantastic, game-changing alternative to traditional teaching. Institutions are taking notice. In fact, today, up to 90% of organizations use some form of online learning, compared to only 4% in 1995. And the e-learning market is projected to expand by another 8% by 2026! Not sure if you want to jump on the e-learning platform just yet? Before you replace traditional learning with online learning in your institution, carefully consider the benefits.

  1. Demands self-discipline and time management skills.

Self-motivation was cited as a barrier to participating in online learning by 41% of 204 employees polled. Why is this so? While we can all concur that self-discipline and time management are always important in learning, online learning requires less guidance from an instructor than traditional learning. Online learning typically eliminates scheduled group meetings and deadlines. As a result, when it comes to continuing education, your employees must take the initiative.

  1. Reduced social interaction

When you think of a traditional classroom, you probably think of lively group discussions and students raising their hands to ask the teacher questions. To be sure, these opportunities do not arise as normally in online learning. These face-to-face interactions are essential for some people to bring the material to life. Nonetheless, more social interaction can be added to online learning via scheduled Q&A sessions with a teacher, competition, and discussion channels.

  1. Not appropriate for every topic

Which would you rather learn online: government guidelines on chemical disposal or how to fly a plane? The former is our preference, and we believe it is yours as well. You would not want to be a passenger on an aircraft with a pilot who had only ever piloted a plane in a flight simulator. Complex topics, surgical techniques, and practices that necessitate a physical environment are best carried out in person. However, in a high turnover environment, more repetitive topics lend themselves naturally to online learning.

  1. Inadequate practice-based learning

Online learning is frequently theory-based, with little practice-based learning. Theoretical knowledge is comprised of facts, theories, and reasoning, whereas practical knowledge is comprised of hands-on activities and tasks. Online learning, for example, would be an excellent tool for learning the theory-based aspects of football, such as its history and game rules. However, it cannot be used to transfer practical knowledge such as how to play the game. That can only be accomplished by getting out on the field. As a result, it is critical to remember that e-learning cannot substitute the knowledge gained through hands-on experience.

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