The physical and mental effects of online learning

Astrid Code and Dra'Noscha Jett

Online school has forced students, parents, and teachers alike to make a tremendous change in their daily routine. Although logistically, video calls work well to replace each period of classes, they have a large effect on students’ mental and physical health. 

Nationwide, 29% of parents that were studied in a Gallup poll said their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures. 14% said their child could continue online school a few more weeks until their mental health suffers. Online school doesn’t have the social element of in person school, which is crucial to students’ social and emotional learning. 

In that same Gallup poll, 45% of parents said that separation of their child from classmates and teachers is a “major challenge.” Junior Maggie Gross agrees. “Lack of physical interaction has killed my mental stability,” she says. 

Online video calls are socially draining as it takes more work to pick up social cues and not see people’s faces and bodies in real time. A National Geographic article explains that “a typical video call impairs these ingrained abilities, and requires sustained and intense attention to words instead.” This is referred to as “Zoom fatigue.” 

In addition to zoom fatigue and mental health issues, the 5 and a half hours of screen time during online classes in Portage Northern’s current schedule cause digital eye strain. The American Optometric Association recommends the 20-20-20 rule, which requires one to take 20 seconds to look at something at least 20 feet away after every 20 minutes of screen time. In that case, students should be taking screen breaks at least once every class period and the “passing time” should also be utilized for the 20-20-20 rule. 

After these 5 and a half hours of video calls, students have homework, which is largely online as well, and most teen’s social life and entertainment, especially when in lockdown, is based online as well. Comparing last semester’s online learning plan to this semester’s, junior Marques Hudson says, “It’s just school but online, I liked it much better when I could go at my own pace and get stuff done when I wanted to.” Junior Maya Vasudeva agrees, saying, “It’s a lot harder on my mind to be stuck at home learning instead of the school environment.” 

Of course, student’s mental health experiences are not universal, and some have even benefitted from online learning, like senior Mason Wice. “Online school has definitely made things harder, but it has actually improved my physical health compared to what I was doing during quarantine, and my mental health as well because my safety is assured,” he says. For others, online school hasn’t made much of a difference in their health. “My mental [health] hasn’t really changed, none of this truly affected me,” says junior John Brown. 

However, scientific articles, polls, and many students at Northern show that mental health, along with fatigue and digital eye strain, are not something to be taken lightly during a pandemic which places the importance on physical health.