Online learning triggers a different response in the body

Several studies have shown that people relate to online learning differently than in-person classes. Now researchers have found out if the body also feels the difference.

Moderate stress can be beneficial for learning. Researchers from Ruhr-Universitt Bochum investigated whether online learning causes stress to the same extent as in-person classes. They measured various physical parameters in students who took anatomy classes digitally or in the classroom. Although the classes were equally demanding in terms of intellectual effort, the online group showed a significantly lower state of physical arousal. The results are described by a team led by Maurice Gelish and Professor Beit Brand-Sabery in the journal physical science educationOnline on July 29, 2022.

stress affects the learning process

Physiological stress is manifested, for example, by increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, decreased heart rate variability and increased heart rate. “We know that stress strongly affects learning and memory processes as well as maintaining attention,” says Morris Gelish. And not just in a negative way. A moderate physiological state of stimulation has a positive effect when it occurs temporarily as part of the learning task.

“To date, the differences between in-person and online learning have often been assessed using questionnaires in which subjective parameters such as motivation or perceived stress were probed,” Gelish describes. “But since there is a definite physiological component to learning, this raised the question of whether there are differences in this as well.”

Anatomy Class – Digital Vs. In the Classroom

The researchers therefore analyzed the heart rate variability and salivary cortisol concentrations of 82 students who had participated in an anatomy course. The course was conducted as a blended learning seminar: students were divided into groups and online lessons alternated with classroom lessons for each group. Seminars were held each day, with one group attending a class in the histology room and the other group following the same program together online. On a representative class day, the researchers measured heart rate variability with special sensors over the entire class duration of 120 minutes. They also took saliva samples at the start, after 60 minutes and at the end of the course. Participating students via a video platform performed the measurements themselves using the same tools and step-by-step instructions.

Physical arousal was significantly reduced during online sessions. This resulted in lower cortisol concentrations, lower sympathetic activity, and increased parasympathetic activity. These last two values ​​can be derived from heart rate variability and are a measure of stress: the students were more relaxed when they participated in the webinar.

Survey data also assessed

In addition to physiological values, the team also used questionnaires to determine subjectively perceived parameters, such as enjoyment of attending class. One result: increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system correlates with increased enjoyment during in-person classes. This correlation was not found in the online group.

Source of the story:

material provided by Ruhr-University of BochumOriginal written by Meik Driesen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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