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Are your students suffering from “Zoom Fatigue” or “Zoom Gloom”?

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) rapidly moving their face-to-face training to an online mode of delivery. For many, this has meant extensive use of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams or WebEx. The big question at the moment is, how has this been going, and should this be continued indefinitely?

Many people across the world are identifying as having Zoom Fatigue. And apparently, it’s a thing! The Inquirer quotes Eric Zillmer, Professor of Neuropsychology at Drexel University, as:

When the brain processes information in face-to-face interactions, it pays attention to what’s said, of course. But that’s only part of the story. The brain also incorporates a multitude of nonverbal cues, such as that slight nudge of the head in disagreement or sideways glance, a vocal pause of confusion, or quick uptake of air to interrupt.

With the two-dimensional, Hollywood Squares world of Zoom, “that goes out the window,” he said. “We’re missing the social cues, and therefore, we’re missing a lot of information.”

“You have to fill in the gaps,” Zillmer said. “And that takes cognitive energy. You get tired more quickly.”

Early on in the pandemic I spoke to people who said they were feeling more connected than ever because they were having these face-to-face video sessions with people who they may not have before, and getting to know the personal side of people (their pets, and children – not such a bad thing!). We have all become more understanding of people being a few minutes late, or having to stop to get the kids back on task with school work (and many people have now met my cat who sleeps on the bookcase behind my desk).

But how is this affecting our students and their learning? Are we going overboard on the webinar-based learning? The saying is “all good things in moderation” and the same goes for video conferencing.  A couple of key thoughts here (and these are my own thoughts):

  1. Not all students learn in the same way. If we are heavily relying on video conferencing and videos, are we disadvantaging some students who would rather read the information? Or need to interact with the content?
  2. Accessibility, accessibility, accessibility!!! How many trainers are providing transcripts or live-captions of their sessions? Some students may need this, but may not realise it or may not want to speak up about it.
  3. Cognitive load. Are we dividing the information communicated via both the audio and visual channels?
  4. We are going online for video conferencing for our social fix. BBC identified that some people feel like they are still ‘on’ and it is more obligation than anything. We are online for work then online for play. It is wearing us out and the motivation and engagement is waning.

Considering that some students will be part-time learners, this means they are on video calls for work, then video calls for learning, then video calls for social engagement. No wonder we are worn out!!!

The key question is, how can we reduce the impact of this for our learners?

Firstly, look at a range of options for providing learning materials. It doesn’t all need to be video, and it doesn’t all need to be text. Make use of imagery, interactivity, and social engagement (without having to have a video call!).

  1. Use relevant imagery in your content and build your content out on an LMS or a webpage for learners to access (this might even be a OneNote file they can access!). Present concepts as infographics and diagrams. Provide a range of ways for accessing information so you are catering for a range of learners.
  2. Interactivity can be achieved with a number of different online tools that are free (or inexpensive) and easy to use. Interactivity does not mean it needs to be click to reveal or click next. It is more than that. Drag and drop, fill in the words, memory games – a whole range of things that can be used for learners to work through their content.
  3. Finally, interaction (as opposed to interactivity). Interaction with other learners, interaction with the trainer. This can be achieved through the use of discussion forums, group collaboration on projects, and contributing to brainstorm whiteboards.

Variety is the key – don’t rely solely on video or videoconferencing. Work out the best tool or approach for what you want to achieve and use video conferencing for check-ins and discussions with your students when they need you. Make the most of this ‘live’ time.