Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Burnout, online learning and the stresses of university life

Burnout has always been an issue faced by students. Defined as “exhaustion, disengagement, frustration and lack of motivation that come as a result of consistent and enduring stress”, it is something that I’m sure most of us are familiar with.

With living away from home, having to function as an adult but not quite having the full independence of being an adult, on top of financial, academic and personal issues, it is clear why student burnout can easily occur. Throw in a pandemic that changes the entire way in which students are taught and have to learn leads us to the following question – has a change to online learning reduced or increased this burnout that students face?

There is more time in the day to do things we enjoy

There are practical ways in which online learning has made students’ lives a lot simpler to navigate. With pre-recorded asynchronous lectures, available at any time to access, students have more control over how they spend their time. There is more flexibility, catering for a range of learner styles. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, you can do your work when it suits you. As opposed to being restricted to a timetabled system, which might mean getting home late in the day and feeling tired, we can go through our studies in a way that works for us.

As a result of this increased flexibility, students might have a sense of feeling less busy. My housemates and I have frequently remarked how nice it is to be able to relax in the kitchen in the middle of the day, or whenever we’re all feeling run down, which wouldn’t necessarily be an easy option on campus.

With increased control over how we are spending our time, there is more time in the day to do things we enjoy.  I, for one, have found more enjoyment in cooking, in contrast with last year when I would get home from campus at 7 pm in the dark, and just want the quickest meal possible.

Another challenge that students face right now is the restrictions regarding social life

There are evidently multiple perks of doing university work at home during the pandemic, but this is a double-edged sword. If students are constantly working at home, it makes it much harder to separate work and personal life. I prefer to work in the library, and I am still continuing to do so. However, with the current situation, not knowing if in the next day or so I’ll have to start isolating due to a housemate catching the virus, or another suddenly announced lockdown, I find this to be a constant source of stress, in terms of planning my work.

Another challenge that students face right now is the restrictions regarding social life. Small yet very enjoyable and relaxing experiences for students such as grabbing a coffee with friends between lectures, or a drink at the pub after a long day of work are not an option for us right now. At the moment, the most my housemates and I can do to relax is slump in front of the TV, which doesn’t quite have the same effect, as we are staying in the house, and have no form of escapism.

Some elements of online learning have made our lives more manageable

Not knowing when we’ll next be able to do things like this has definitely made it feel difficult to be optimistic right now. Small stresses such as the Wi-Fi dropping out and general issues with online learning platforms can cause additional stress for students on a daily basis.

Many of my friends have also remarked that they don’t feel comfortable contributing to seminar discussions carried out through platforms such as Microsoft Teams, whereas, in person, they would happily get more involved. This is in turn having an impact on student’s confidence and engagement with class content. The inability to just drop into a lecturers’ office is also quite unsettling, and the alternative, an email conversation or call, doesn’t feel quite the same.

Yes, some elements of online learning have made our lives more manageable, yet the general threat to wellbeing that comes along with online learning shows how student burnout may very well have been exacerbated through online learning.

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