The best way to teach children is a hotly debated topic in our society, as education plays a crucial role in the development of young people into adults. From school to home Montessori, there are many different approaches to schooling and many different beliefs about which is best. However, with the pandemic, hunches have been forced to move to online virtual platforms. New search found that online learning had significant effects on students’ brains and cognitive functions.
When COVID-19 hit the world in March 2020, none of us knew what to expect. Suddenly the whole social order and way of life changed seemingly overnight, with new rules about how to do just about everything from shopping to school. No one had heard of Zoom before, but suddenly it was everywhere, with schools moving all of their programs to an online format for students ranging from kindergarten to college age. According to Washington Post, as of September 2020, nearly 80% of the top 100 U.S. universities were teaching through a hybrid format or primarily online. Suddenly, bedrooms and living rooms were transformed into classrooms, radically altering many of the daily routines the students were used to. Their entire learning experience was consolidated into the small screens of their laptops, their only window to the world before the pandemic. Obviously, this new school format was very different from the traditional classroom. Such a transition cannot occur without causing unintended and unforeseen consequences. So how has this period of online learning affected students’ brains? The impacts affected everything, from memory to the very structure of neural interaction.
First, consider how online learning for many students is much more challenging compared to traditional environments. As Dr. Zadina, an expert in the field of educational neuroscience, explained, “there could be an increased cognitive load if learners struggle with technology as well as content.” She continued that a “heavy cognitive load would have a negative impact on their learning.” While adapting to Zoom, students had to interact with an online platform they were initially unfamiliar with, which makes navigating the app take up more of their cognitive bandwidth than s they were sitting in a classroom. In addition, students are bombarded with nonverbal overload from the platform.
Have you ever felt that online meetings or lectures were more exhausting than regular school? Sitting in front of screens all day, even while sitting up in bed, can sometimes feel inexplicably exhausting. Experts have attributed this “zoom fatigue” to the non-verbal overload the platform creates for users. This overload stems from four main causes: excessive close eye contact, high levels of cognitive load, increased self-report by watching one’s own video, and limitations in physical mobility. All of these factors sound incredibly familiar to anyone who has ever used Zoom. On the platform, you are constantly in perceived eye contact of the teacher or professor and when someone new speaks, suddenly in theirs as well. As Dr. Zadia added, the stress of having to navigate the platform contributes to the high cognitive load of e-learning.
Plus, most users can attest to being distracted by their own Zoom video, checking their hair or expressions instead of watching the lesson. And all of this is usually done from a desk or even a sofa or a bed, for many hours every day all week long. Compared to in-person schooling, where one is required to commute, walk from class to class or eat lunch, the differences in levels of physical mobility are immense. For learners in quarantine, entire days can be spent sitting in bed, clicking from one Zoom link to another with no reason to get up and move around. Additionally, in a classroom, the eyes are forced to roam the space, following the teacher and the various speakers to create an overall more stimulating and immersive learning environment. Compared to outdated Zoom calls, it’s easy to see why these factors add up to Zoom fatigue and create a negative impact on student learning.
The impacts of remote learning go far beyond just making students feel exhausted and having trouble concentrating. New studies found that distance learning affects transmission between Limbic system and cortical regions of the brain. The limbic system is responsible for generating and interpreting facial signals, which are then transmitted to the cortical region to form thoughts. When students’ primary source of social interaction is confined to a 2D laptop screen, there are far fewer visual cues to stimulate the relay of information between these two parts of the brain. As a result, students are disengaged from lesson content because their brain cortices are less stimulated and therefore generate fewer thoughts.
While older students may have more difficulty processing information in an online environment, the consequences of online school are not as severe because their brains are more developed. However, for young children whose brains are still developing, online learning can leave a more lasting impression. Without the strong and constant stimuli of a traditional classroom, the development of important neural pathways essential for memory formation and social cues are not properly established. “We could be dealing with a very different generation,” one expert said.
Remote learning was not an option chosen by any of us, but rather a solution to a situation that took the world by surprise. Nonetheless, moving forward, it is important that we address the issues of distance learning and the impact it has had on students. These new studies reveal shocking information about the consequences of online learning in recent years, and we can only hope that experts will find ways to undo some of the most negative effects distance learning can have. generated and create a better platform using this research.