Mitigating online learning fatigue

calendar_todayJuly 30, 2021
Mitigating online learning fatigue

Just as ‘Googling’ is synonymous to any web search, the term ‘Zooming’ has become as interchangeable and universal as videoconferencing; virtual meetings have skyrocketed, with eleven million1 happening daily and online education reportedly to be worth $350 billion by 20252. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, schools, universities and companies have utilized remote learning as its central mode of communication, with institutions such as Harvard and Stanford University offering from Art to Engineering classes exclusively online. The immense demand for online learning partially stems from advantages such as increased time and cost efficiency - allowing students to complete their studies at their convenience whilst saving commuting and course material costs; this subsequently provides increased accessibility to top-tier establishments, catering to a more diverse and inclusive student-body. Despite Zoom being the ideal solution for synchronous teaching when in-person classes are not a possibility, the substitution of video conferencing in place of real-life interactions has created a new level of exhaustion which plagues both students and educators. The three main components responsible in inducing online learning fatigue can be categorised as: excessive and close-up eye contact, reduced physical mobility and increased cognitive activity.

On Zoom calls, viewers are treated like nonverbal speakers due to the constant eye contact with meeting members; this persistent role as an active listener - provoked by elongated eye contact – induces our brains into a ‘hyper-aroused state’ in response to the intensified situation. The need to exaggerate nonverbal cues then further heightens this sensory load. In regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is natural and interpreted subconsciously, however, video chats require deliberate effort to send and receive signals; Dr Bailenson explains: ‘You’ve got to make sure that your head is framed within the centre of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you must do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories to communicate’3. In addition to mental constraint, learning fatigue is equally induced by lack of physical mobility; while audio phone conversations allow movement, videoconferencing limits mobility to an unnatural extent.

Despite ‘Zooming’ being a central element of modern learning environments and workplaces, online conferencing is notably associated with loss of effectivity and time; with 95 percent of meeting attendees losing focus and 39 percent completely dozing off4. In response to many schools, large companies and government entities asking for increased understanding on regular videoconferencing, the Stanford Social Media Lab created the ZEF (Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue Scale) to help measure how much fatigue people were experiencing in the workplace from online meetings. The scale is a 15-item questionnaire which addressed general fatigue, physical fatigue, social fatigue, emotional fatigue, and motivational fatigue; some sample questions include: ‘How irritated do your eyes feel after videoconferencing?’, ‘How emotionally drained do you feel after videoconferencing?’ and ‘How often do you feel too tired to do other things after videoconferencing?’. Potential solutions to these factors include reducing the Zoom window size and introducing ‘audio only’ sessions; this establishes a break from the perceptually realistic, yet overwhelming nonverbal activity, and allows physical movement away from the screen. The necessity of utilizing any video option – excluding when speaking - should be scrutinised to minimize visual overload. Effective communication and organization is another imperative tool when easing online fatigue; access to a carefully crafted agenda allows learners to anticipate time commitments and educators to end sessions 5-10 minutes earlier, allowing a break before the next engagement.

Measuring your own Zoom fatigue: