A look into the kind of toll online learning has taken on many students.

A full year of 7 am mornings, with nowhere to go except in front of the laptop screen. The pandemic not only created a new world of uncertainty, but also unfamiliarity. Mornings that were spent greeting friends were now replaced by monotonous PowerPoint presentations. Classrooms turned into Zoom calls, friends reduced to letters on the screen.

Over 1.2 billion children globally had to adapt to this new lifestyle, and it not only affected the quality of education, but mental health as well. Social anxiety was at an all time high. The lack of social interaction, combined with not knowing when to unmute, made for an awkward and unmotivated atmosphere. So much so, that eventually schooling became more and more lecture based rather than discussion. The previously present major romanticization of school life as the ‘best years’ was long gone. Many faced tragedies, deaths and destruction, yet were still expected to submit assignments by the deadline, in a somewhat robotic manner. God forbid Google Classroom was to send “Late” or “Missed Work” notifications.

Furthermore, it is important to note that school was a safe place for many, away from all the trouble at home, an escape if you would. To have that snatched away meant many felt out of place, and education became highly informal. Attending lectures from one’s bed could never match up to the information obtained from attending lectures in person. Grades dropped, and stress levels increased. The lack of effectiveness combined with the rigid timetable of end of year examinations, regardless of the progress in online classes, only had a negative impact.

The self complexity theory states that one’s ‘self’ consists of many ‘self aspects’, such as context-dependent social roles, relationships, activities and goals, and the existence of a variety is necessary for better mental health. However, with the absence of work-life boundaries, such as in the case of online schooling, these aspects are reduced, resulting in increased vulnerability, especially in terms of negative feelings.

The physical impact and burnout associated with online schooling became so prominent that a new term was coined - Zoom Fatigue. Zoom fatigue refers to “tiredness, worry or burnout associated with the overuse of virtual platforms of communication, particularly videoconferencing.” Professor Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab studied the causes linked to this feeling of fatigue. He concluded that excessive screen time, coupled with the reduction in mobility and cognitive load from video chats served as an explanation for the psychological malfunctioning taking place. The lack of non verbal communication and body language cues make it harder to send and receive signals, thereby leading to increased exhaustion.

Ultimately, adaptation is a major lesson that has risen from this pandemic. Online schooling brought along with it many challenges, and negative impacts, yet we still cannot be certain on when normalcy will return. This may be the future of education, and in the case that it is, major changes and solutions need to be formed.

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