Online learning, whether at home or in the classroom, is a part of our everyday lives. As digital devices become more prevalent in the classroom and are required to complete assignments outside of the classroom, it’s important to consider how they may affect students’ mental health.
In honor of Mental Health Month, we’ll discuss some potential negative impacts of digital learning on mental health and provide tips for students and teachers to take care of themselves in the digital classroom.
Potential negative impacts of digital devices and digital learning on mental health
While technology can provide countless benefits, including access to information, improved communication, and increased engagement, it can also have negative impacts on students’ well-being.
Reduced physical activity
Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end can reduce physical activity, which can contribute to poor mental health. Lack of physical activity is linked to a range of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Physical activity releases endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that help to reduce stress and improve mood. When students sit for long periods of time without physical activity, their stress levels can increase, and their mood may become more negative.
Reduced physical activity can also lead to decreased physical health, including obesity and poor cardiovascular health. These physical health issues can also contribute to mental health issues, as they can make students feel self-conscious and lower their self-esteem.
To combat the negative impact of reduced physical activity, teachers and students can incorporate regular physical activity into their day by incorporating movement breaks into their routines.
Online learning can be isolating as students may not have the same level of social interaction with their peers even if they’re all in the same physical classroom setting. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. To mitigate this, schools can encourage social classroom interactions through discussion groups, group projects, genius hour, and study groups.
Increased screen time
Online learning requires students to spend more time in front of screens, which can lead to eye strain, headaches, and sleep disruption. Excessive screen time can also have negative effects on mental health, such as decreased attention span, irritability, and mood swings. To combat this, schools can encourage students to take breaks from screens, prioritize sleep hygiene, and use blue light blocking glasses.
Lack of structure
Sometimes, digital learning can lack structure and routine, which can be overwhelming for some students. Even though the structure is designed for the student to go at their own pace, students may struggle with time management, procrastination, and feeling unmotivated. To address this, schools can provide clear schedules and guidelines for digital learning, encourage students to create routines and establish a dedicated study space, and offer support and resources for time management and productivity.
Digital devices can be a source of distraction, leading to decreased focus and increased stress levels as students may feel pressure to manage their time effectively, complete assignments on time, and navigate technical difficulties. Online assessments and exams may create additional stress and anxiety for some students. Schools can support students by providing clear expectations and guidance on assessments and exams, offering resources and support for stress management, and providing opportunities for open communication and feedback.
Online learning requires reliable technology and internet access, which can be a challenge for some students. Technical difficulties such as poor internet connection or malfunctioning devices can add to the stress and frustration of online learning. Schools can mitigate the technology and by providing technical support and resources for students, offering flexibility and accommodations for students who may not have access to reliable technology, and providing clear expectations and guidelines for online learning.
Tips for students to take care of their mental health in the digital classroom
Take regular breaks: It’s important for students to take breaks from their screens to give their eyes and minds a rest and avoid tech fatigue. Encourage students to set a timer to remind themselves to take a break every 30 minutes or so, and use that time to stand up, stretch, and move around.
Engage in physical activity: Physical activity can help improve mental health. Encourage students to take a break from their screens and engage in activities like walking, yoga or desk stretches.
Practice mindfulness: Encourage students to practice mindfulness exercises to reduce stress and increase focus. There are many apps available, such as Headspace and Calm, that provide guided meditations and mindfulness exercises.
Set boundaries: Encourage students to set boundaries around their digital device use. For example, they could turn off notifications during designated study times or set limits on their social media use.
Tips for teachers to support students’ mental health in the digital classroom
Be aware of the impact of screen time: Teachers can help students reduce their screen time by providing opportunities for physical activity and limiting the use of digital devices during class.
Encourage breaks: Teachers can encourage students to take regular breaks from their screens by incorporating movement breaks into their lessons.
Foster a supportive classroom environment: Teachers can help create a supportive classroom environment by promoting positive relationships between students and encouraging open communication.
Provide mental health resources: Teachers can provide students with resources for mental health support, such as counseling services or apps that promote mindfulness.
While digital devices and digital learning have many benefits, it’s important to consider their potential impact on students’ mental health. By taking breaks, engaging in physical activity, practicing mindfulness, setting boundaries, and creating a supportive classroom environment, students and teachers can work together to promote mental health and well-being in the digital classroom.
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