How Does Online Learning Impact Brain

Study By Charles McArthur

 In the age of the Internet, when we have grown accustomed to learning at our own pace, studying for books is becoming more of a thing of the past. College instructors now use the tools at their disposal – including online learning platforms – to help students learn concepts more efficiently and self-motivate to succeed.

There are endless studies and reports published daily about brain fitness and even how its developed. Younger people have a remarkable capacity to focus on a task, but what about adults? A recent study from Duquesne University claims that a digital activity may aid an adult brain to form a harder neural network. According to researchers, adults have a weaker “tunnel of thought” compared to younger brains, which they suggest happens when someone loses their focus and no longer remembers details. This may be related to a decrease in high function through the brain. However, the result of lack of emphasis on mental routine or information we add on mid-week may lead to brain fatigue. This is an inherent risk of constant digital use for a brief period of time. Does this mean you should have a sustained mental activity in order to remain sharp?


Although an endless amount of studies indicate that no activity is perfectly healthy, researchers have found evidence that digital activities like reading, watching TV, and talking on the phone can have a positive impact on a person’s mental performance in unexpected ways. The people who use our technologies the most may have more significant benefits than we expect. Our smartphone, iPad, and computer may provide additional benefits to our mental state such as improved memory, visual learning, and an ability to prioritize information sources. Experts have found that these benefits are commonly associated with people who read on their devices even for short periods of time. These benefits can be seen in children and adults, the digital use of which has been shown to produce positive effects on cognitive function. For example, it is notable that using both computers and phones for two to three hours on a daily basis is the equivalent of four to six hours of physical activity. Just consider this: one person increases his/her calorie consumption by more than 300 calories a day, while another person increases her/his calorie consumption by nearly 2,500 calories. In fact, the authors of this research report that they have found cases of healthy adults who were severely deficient in physical activity over their lifetime, but who upgraded their physical activity when they turned on a computer and started listening to music. The researchers have found that increasing a mental activity (such as reading books, talking on the phone, watching TV, playing computer games) can increase the number of brain cells in a person’s hippocampus. Furthermore, this effect may occur even without any stimulation, as a natural part of brain learning and learning is the addition of new information into one’s collection.

A study from Missouri State University and the University of Oregon-Madras has found that people may want to consider using digital devices in a more cognitive manner, which could even decrease their overall physical activity. Researchers wanted to find out if distraction was linked to reduced amounts of time spent moving around. According to findings, people who reported working with their laptop or smartphone excessively were less likely to move around, depending on their level of distraction. However, this could only be the case in regards to those people who were distracted by computers. In the more interesting case of those who were removed from technology completely and continued doing their mundane duties, the researchers found that these people were actually better at moving around, despite using their devices for a small amount of time.

Does This Mean You Need to Recharge?

Although the benefits from digital technology have been demonstrated, researchers are concerned that most people may not use computers well. The benefits of a digital presence have been demonstrated in our careers and on our time. However, despite their benefits, a hardwired traditional brain requires more time to process information and remember what you need to remember. It is important to remember that your social and professional activities are productive, but the long-term and lifelong benefits of digital use may not outweigh the short-term risks of depletion, separation, and burnout. In a survey with UCLA students, half of the respondents reported that their computers were their most important work and life tools. In other words, 90 percent of the students felt digital-only life events are associated with significant enhancement to physical and mental performance. The good news is that this disconnection can be overcome, as there are ways to buffer digital usage with extracurricular and simple lifestyle habits.

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