Several studies have shown that people relate to online learning differently than in-person classes. Now researchers have discovered whether the body experiences the difference as well.
Moderate stress can be beneficial for learning. Researchers at the Ruhr-Universitt Bochum have investigated whether online learning causes stress to the same extent as in-person classes. They measured various physical parameters in students who completed anatomy courses digitally or in the classroom. Although the courses were equally demanding in terms of intellectual effort, the online group showed a significantly lower physical state of arousal. The results are described by a team headed by Maurice Gelish and Professor Beit Brand-Sabery in the journal physical science educationPublished online 29 July 2022.
stress affects the learning process
Physiological stress manifests itself, for example, in increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, decreased heart rate variability and increased heart rate. “We know that stress strongly affects learning and memory processes as well as maintaining attention,” says Morris Gelish. And not only in a negative way. A moderate physiological state of stimulation has a positive effect when it occurs temporarily in the context of the learning task.
“To date, the differences between in-person and online learning have often been assessed using questionnaires in which subjective parameters such as motivation or perceived stress were surveyed,” describes Gelish. “But since there is a definite physiological component to learning, this raised the question of whether there are any differences in this regard as well.”
Anatomy Course – Digital Vs. In The Classroom
So the researchers analyzed the heart rate variability and salivary cortisol concentrations of 82 students who took part in an anatomy course. The course was conducted as a blended learning seminar: students were divided into groups, and online classes alternated with classroom classes for each group. Seminars were held each day, with one group attending a class in the histology room and the other group following the same curriculum together online. On a representative course day, the researchers measured heart rate variability with special sensors over the entire duration of the course, that is, 120 minutes. They also took saliva samples at the beginning, after 60 minutes and at the end of the course. Participating students through a video platform performed the measurements themselves using the same tools and step-by-step instructions.
Physical arousal was significantly reduced during the online sessions. This was reflected in lower cortisol concentrations, lower sympathetic activity and increased parasympathetic activity. The latter two values can be derived from heart rate variability and are a measure of stress: students were more relaxed when they participated in the online seminar.
Also assessed survey data
In addition to physiological values, the team also used questionnaires to determine subjectively perceived parameters, such as how enjoyable it was to attend the course. One result: increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system is correlated with increased pleasure during in-person classes. This correlation was not found in the online group.
material provided by Ruhr-University Bochum, Original written by Meik Driesen. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.