E-learning platforms recently gained substantial traction as the corporate world and educational sectors seized these solutions to support remote workforces.
The allure of learning from home at one’s own pace makes e-learning especially attractive in today’s fast-paced world.
However, this new stride in innovation carries unintended consequences for learners’ mental well-being and performance. Organizations must consider how to refine their online training ethically.
It’s easy to under-prioritize employee mental health and user experience in internal training platforms, but neglecting these factors ultimately backfires, affecting both learner engagement and overall productivity.
Mari Sild, Ph.D., a Montreal-based psychiatry researcher and consultant, states that studies during the COVID-19 pandemic show that the large-scale switch to online learning has had a negative impact on learners’ mental health. These studies associate e-learning with increased stress and anxiety, feelings of social isolation, and learning fatigue.
Negative components of online learning thought to affect mental well-being include:
Mental well-being that can be affected by e-learning practices is not just an HR issue— the mental well-being of the employees translates directly to good business results.
When employees feel mentally drained, their ability to engage with and retain new information diminishes, leading to resentment toward upskilling and performance training. This results in lost training hours and limited buy-in on corporate standards and regulations.
Conversely, Sild states that a psychologically healthy employee is more likely to absorb training effectively, perform well, and feel less resentment toward upskilling. All of these factors ultimately impact the quality of work and productivity levels.
“When people are feeling better, they’re learning better” — Mari Sild, Ph.D.
Sild says, “It’s important to care for employees’ well-being and mental health because there’s a clear connection that when people are feeling better, they’re learning better.”
Optimizing online training for a low-stress and engaging experience also means leveraging an e-learning platform to its fullest potential.
While the current predominant narrative around e-learning is negative, Sild states that research shows e-learning can surpass traditional classroom settings and in-person instruction in offering advantages.
Some of these advantages include:
Sild explains, “We can use e-learning in a way that is better than classroom learning, but we must take care of and overcome some caveats to achieve this.”
According to Sild, organizations must identify and tackle e-learning stressors proactively to make training a valuable asset rather than a hindrance. She suggests that organizations can mitigate the negative impacts of e-learning by implementing best practices and improving their training solutions’ effectiveness.
“The goal is to simplify usage,” Sild says. “For example, training materials should be simple and clear, using simple language, avoiding large blocks of text, and including bullet lists, headings, and outlines.”
Sild says the good news is that focusing on mental health for online learners closely aligns with typical practices for optimizing user experience, such as making content easy to read, natural to navigate, and presenting information clearly.
Here are a few ways Sild recommends organizations can start prioritizing mental wellness in online learning materials:
Reducing cognitive load is crucial for effective e-learning. Cognitive load refers to the mental effort learners exert to process information and complete tasks. Cognitive load can also be described as the amount of working memory resources being used at a time. A poorly designed e-learning program can overwhelm learners and diminish their ability for meaningful engagement and effective learning.According to Sild, “If you’ve spent several hours on material and feel like you haven’t learned anything, that contributes to stress and anxiety because you feel like you’re wasting time and not progressing.”
According to Sild, “If you’ve spent several hours on material and feel like you haven’t learned anything, that contributes to stress and anxiety because you feel like you’re wasting time and not progressing.”
This problem worsens in e-learning setups that make learners switch between multiple programs and platforms and divert their attention to new material.
“Multitasking is a myth,” Sild says, “anytime a learner must redirect attention to a new task, this disrupts the sustained attention. Multitasking is associated with deficits in performance.”
Sild notes that the shift away from textbook-style presentation is partially responsible for bad habits among instructors, who overwhelm learners with an excessive array of resources ranging from links and videos to articles.
Organizations can improve educational outcomes and better serve learners by streamlining resources, keeping attention within one platform, and prioritizing quality over quantity.
Providing periodic breaks and encouraging variety can also help sustain attention spans, which according to some research on adult users wane as quickly as in 20 minutes.
Active learning is another cornerstone of effective e-learning and promotes both engagement and motivation. Implementing problem-solving opportunities and gamification elements such as rewards fosters a more interactive and enjoyable experience. According to Sild, greater attention and motivation are garnered in a more fun learning environment, leading to better information retention.
While multimedia elements like videos and animations can enhance the learning experience, they should be used deliberately and with balance.
“Using multimedia is helpful,” says Sild, “but strategic integration into modules and lessons is necessary to prevent it from becoming overwhelming or distracting.”
Active learning techniques and thoughtful multimedia integration can significantly improve the quality of education offered by e-learning platforms. This ensures learners are not just hearing information but are absorbing it and are motivated in their self-development.
Defining clear boundaries is crucial in an e-learning environment, especially since the lines between work, learning, and personal time can easily blur.
According to Sild, when learners feel as though they are “on” all the time, the constant influx of notifications and instructor communication outside designated learning times can be exhausting.
This constant engagement not only affects mental well-being but also impacts the quality of learning and information retention. Establishing distinct spaces and times for learning can prevent burnout and allow for more focused and effective educational experiences.
Sild says e-learning platforms should increasingly look for ways to replicate the social environment typically found in classroom settings.
“There are different ways to try to do it,” she says. “Things like chat groups, discussion boards, group activities, group assignments, presentations, make it all feel social, and people still get the ‘social kick’ out of the learning experience.”
Sild notes one of the significant benefits of physical classrooms is the opportunity for immediate feedback, which is often lacking in e-learning spaces. However, technological innovations are bridging this gap.
Real-time monitoring by instructors and immediate AI-generated feedback can mitigate this issue. For example, if a learner inputs incorrect information, a popup can question the validity of the response, mimicking the instant input received in a classroom.
Sild warned that too much social interaction by instructors and outreach outside designated hours can feel intrusive and exhausting for learners.
Sild says the imposition of unnecessary rules can create an added layer of stress for learners, and instructors should be open-minded about standards and seek feedback from learners on them.
For example, Sild explains mandating all participants to keep their video cameras on during an instruction session can be a distraction rather than an aid to engagement.
Instead of relying on restrictive rules, Sild advised e-learning platforms can benefit from using positive reinforcement techniques to keep users engaged. By reducing rigid guidelines and incorporating more user-friendly features, e-learning platforms can create an environment conducive to effective learning and mental well-being.
Ready to prioritize mental well-being in your e-learning initiatives? Techninnov offers expertly designed e-learning platforms that consider not just the educational needs but also the mental health of learners.
By choosing Techinnov, you invest in a balanced, effective, and user-friendly learning environment that facilitates true mastery, UX streamlined modules and eliminates friction. Take the first step towards creating an e-learning experience that puts both education and well-being at the forefront.