Distance Learning: The Effect on Students’ Health

How Online Learning is Bad for Students

Photo courtesy of KC Flynn

Photo courtesy of KC Flynn

As the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic continues to rage on, schools and teachers have had to adjust their courses and extracurricular activities to comply with distance learning guidelines. This means that students don’t get the same learning environment they are used to, and it’s taking a toll on their physical, social, and mental health. 

Physical and Mental Health Concerns

The transition to online learning has students sitting by their laptop screens for 7-10 hours a day. In an interview with Sophomore Pallavi Mamillapalli, a student at Oakton High School, she stated: “What makes my work take longer is that I have to take breaks from my computer because I will get a headache from sitting at my screen all day”. This is caused by digital eye strain of having to stare at a screen for many hours a day. Working at a computer for the majority of the day also harms students’ sleep schedules. 

A study by the University of Haifa illustrates how the blue light emitted from computer screens “suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone secreted at night that is connected with normal body cycles and sleep.” This effect is even more significant at night. As a result, already sleep deprived students are getting even less sleep, leading to an unhealthy lifestyle and an inability to focus during school hours.

Another factor that negatively impacts physical health is lack of exercise. During the school year students are, at the very least, walking to and from class and during travel time to school. Now, most students are sitting in one spot for almost the whole day, and physical activity is extremely limited. 

Mental health is also extremely important for students, especially as they are starting to navigate themselves and transition from childhood to adulthood. Depression rates in high school students in our country have already been on the rise for years. In fact, according to a survey in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, “Between 2005 and 2017, the proportion of teens 12-17 who reported the symptoms of a major depressive episode within the last year rose from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent”. It is extremely important that schools are acknowledging this and helping students maintain good mental health. However, with distance learning, many factors are contributing to the opposite. 

Humans are naturally social creatures and being deprived of interaction with others has students feeling like they are trapped. Continuing in this manner for a long time can contribute to an array of mental health issues in the present and down the line. Another important factor is stress. As Mamillapalli worded it, “having to do everything myself without being around others is making me feel more overwhelmed and stressed”. Sustaining this lifestyle is not healthy for students and increases their chances of anxiety or depression.

How Online School Harms the Learning Process

Social interaction is at an all time low. Mamillapalli says, “from the start of distance learning, I’ve become a lot more introverted. It is harder to communicate and social interaction has become more difficult and even awkward.” Without students engaging with one another, it is not only bad for their health, but it makes it much harder to learn. 

When asked if she felt she learned better in person, Mamillapalli remarked that in person it is easier to ask questions, and participate. “Group work also feels more personal. Breakout rooms don’t feel the same, especially since we are not required to turn on our microphones.” Participation is the key to success, as many teachers would corroborate. However, it is simply more difficult to do so when you are talking to a screen and can’t actually see anyone. Along with this she says: at home, it is harder to “manage work and stay focused”. 

While self paced study might work for some, others are having trouble adjusting. Overall, distance learning is harming students’ physical, mental, and social health, all of which are extremely important to feeling good about yourself and living a healthy, happy lifestyle.