Home | Industry & Research | Academics dole out too much online course content, study says

Academics dole out too much online course content, study says

University lecturers may "overdo" allocating online course content which can lead to a decline in student engagement and hinder their learning, according to a recent study.

Research from the University of Southern Queensland interviewed students and teachers about their perception of 'online engagement fatigue'.

Experts found while academics have been hesitant to recognise the concept of too much online learning, students reported it to be a widespread issue.

"Students have a full course load, and each course has them exposed to a lot of content," UniSQ senior education lecturer and co-study author Dr Alice Brown told Campus Review.

"You've got stressors of the overwhelmingness of the online environment, the plethora of materials, the assessment that's coming up, and then the stressors at home.

"It becomes like a perfect storm for being unable to fully optimise their learning and outcomes success."

According to the study, online engagement fatigue can be defined as a reduction in students' enthusiasm and motivation for engaging in course activities sparked by online overexposure.

Dr Brown said the large amount of course content given to full-time online students can push them to 'shut down' or 'quit'.

Dr Brown said students reported spending hours looking at screens to participate in many lectures, videos, online forums, and course announcements, leaving them tired, unmotivated and unable to complete the course activities.

"These students are choosing online learning for the flexibility, but they have to decide what materials they put aside," Dr Brown said.

"But choosing what to prioritise has become more difficult for these students."

While educators are encouraged to provide various resources to cater to students' learning preferences, Dr Brown said they should be "strategic" about the material they use in their courses.

"A lot of people are still very new to online teaching, and they think that just placing multiple different contents is a key way to support student engagement cognitively," she said.

"But we need to think about different types and ways that we can present and move through key content and learnings with our students - it doesn't necessarily need to be through large amounts of material."

She said in addition to being more selective with their course content; educators should clarify what resources are mandatory and which activities are complementary to help students manage their online study better.

"Academics need to be very aware and mindful of the potential for students to experience online engagement fatigue and be very clear at the beginning of the semester about the types of expectations and goals for the course.

"But they also need to be realistic and not have too many unachievable expectations for the average student, particularly if they're doing more than one subject a semester."

She said having a maximum of two or three key activities or resources per lesson is enough.

The study also found online engagement fatigue peaked around assessment periods as students became more and more overwhelmed by the amount of learning they had to prepare.

During that stressful period, Dr Brown said educators could provide students with ways of working and moving through the materials by sending them a note highlighting the importance of the content and why it's relevant for their assessments.

"Presenting the rationale regularly will help students keep their motivation high and reduce online engagement fatigue because they will understand the importance of what they are learning which keeps them going."

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One comment

  1. I’m surprised and I’m not.

    Students appear to spend every waking moment staring at screens. If they are overloaded, how about they take a break from streaming and social media, and prioritise their studies?

    20 years ago, the complaint was over being expected to read too much material. Same story, different medium.

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