By Moira Law
Education often treats online learning like a second chance—a solution to the millennials’ procrastination and a way to retrain displaced college grads. But conventional approaches can be damaging to mental health. Many adults are already suffering serious mental health problems. Having another, possibly lower-quality learning experience could seriously harm their well-being and put future careers and earnings at risk.
What Are the Harmful Effects of Online Learning?
Although there are many people who report having flourished in online courses, very few of them are health professionals. And too many have already been hurt.
At a time when many people are struggling to survive financially and emotionally, delaying marriage, or trying to start new businesses, the learning experience is not likely to make them more self-confident. For individuals with chronic problems like depression, anxiety, and addiction, continuing to study could impede their recovery.
Nearly half of Americans reported experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues at some point. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that the prevalence of psychological distress is 50% or higher for the approximately 2,000,000 people in the United States.
Learn from the Past
With so many people struggling with mental health, it’s important to learn from what happened in the past. Today’s adults should not repeat past mistakes. In a 2014 survey by Rand Corporation, people reported similar negative experiences in their previous online education experiences—especially with coursework relating to mental health, and often poorly designed courses.
More research needs to be done to identify ways to successfully treat mental health patients. As for the researchers—it’s important to heed previous research findings and take responsibility for how you propose to care for your patients.
When you have grown up on the Web and interact with computer programs you haven’t yet mastered, you might think that the same strategies work for mental health. There’s some truth to that, of course. But you need to take into account those very traits that make you likely to self-destruct and create even more problems.
High Performance in Online Courses
Online learning has many advantages. Textbooks can be highly efficient because they’re bite-sized chunks that can be read in their entirety at a later time. When it comes to an actual curriculum, people are immediately able to carry over what they learned from one class to another. Most instructors’ communication style is passive. Students can only listen and take notes.
Taking notes can make some adults uncomfortable; sometimes they need to be physically active, such as dancing or climbing. You need to make it easy for students to use their hands and free themselves from passive learning techniques. A teaching assistant or some project-based activities are good options. If students can take notes at a pace that fits their schedule, not the schedule of an instructor, then they may be able to “blend” their answers, without ever skipping a class.
Students can determine the pace at which they are able to keep up by working off-time to prepare, without using their computers. There’s also no equipment necessary for learning. Students simply have to connect with their instructors when the class is in session. It’s important that students be able to keep up with their progress, so they can figure out what works best for them.
The Disappearing Faculty
One drawback to online learning is the instructors themselves. They do not have regular contact with students, but rather appear online to assign lectures, answer questions, and change the course. Students may read on and off for days, months, or even years without having their instructor notify them how much time has passed. There’s nothing stopping teachers from doing this. You have nothing to do with when their courses are gone. You cannot change the date.
What This Means for Veterans
Veterans—or people who are on active duty—should not have to choose between their health and education. To make sure that veterans who are in the military are getting the level of support they need, educational sites should be monitoring how the courses are being implemented for veterans. One way to inform instructors and staff members how to improve their online courses is to ask veterans what they like about it. Having feedback helps veterans better adjust to an online learning environment.
“I Take Care of People,” was the motto of World War II veteran Everett “Jack” Mitchell. In 2013, MIT honored him by asking students to draw their representative and one whom they thought was the best person from each generation. MIT professor Erik Erikson asked participants to draw their best representation of Jack Mitchell and asked participants to post their drawings online as a way to find out what people admired most about Jack Mitchell.
There were about 500 responses posted as part of this study. The best description was not a young Jack Mitchell with wavy hair and eyebrows that were rather high.