Combating student tech fatigue

If students’ lives were entrenched in technology before the pandemic, COVID-19 has only seen this reliance on screens intensify. Learn about tech fatigue here.

3 min readPublished: 25 Nov 2020

If students’ lives were entrenched in technology before the pandemic, COVID-19 has only seen this reliance on screens intensify. For many, all of their education is delivered remotely and while this might be a sensible solution for now, it is not without drawbacks.

Enter: tech fatigue. This term refers to the sense of restlessness, boredom and lethargy experienced after spending too much time glued to, and communicating via, screens. With the advent of remote learning and all that that entails, it’s becoming a growing challenge for students.

Why tech fatigue happens

While this phenomenon is experienced by many students, it’s not entirely understood why an abundance of technology is so wearing on the mind. One thing is for sure, it’s a multifaceted issue with various causes. Most notably:

It strips away intuitive human communication

We have all heard the urban legend that 93% of communication is nonverbal. And while that number is an overreach, there is no denying our brains rely on nonverbal cues to add vital context and understanding to interactions. Many of these cues are removed with a video call and consequentially there is a need for increased focus, which understandably takes its toll. While all students face this issue, it may prove extra challenging for some. A recent survey looking at how COVID-19 impacts the student experience for those with disabilities found 75% of participants reported students having difficulty communicating with their course instructors.

There is too much of it

Prior to the move to remote learning, there was debate around the ever-increasing prominence of technology in all of our lives. And if pre-pandemic levels of technology consumption warrant question, 2020 levels certainly deserve some scrutiny.

It comes with a learning curve

Lastly, there is the simple matter of getting to grips with a number of new technologies. Some of these platforms are unnecessarily complicated and there is a significant period of time before a student can use them intuitively. This requires yet more concentration, which may prove even more tricky when you consider the new context many students are working from: remotely, at home with a number of distractions going on in the background.

Practical steps to limit tech fatigue

Now it’s established what exactly tech fatigue is and what causes it, let’s take a look at some of the steps that can be taken to reduce it.

Opt for simple solutions

Learning how to use new technology can be a real headache for students. So before choosing new options to assist students learning, first find out how steep the learning curve is. Take Glean, it doesn’t require any training sessions and can be picked up by students in five minutes. And if students have any questions, the in-app help will direct them to us, not you. This may be especially important for students with disabilities; the aforementioned survey found 72% of participants reported difficulty for students with disabilities accessing technology.

Stress the importance of regular breaks

Given the context, it’s easy to understand why some students are feeling particularly stressed and under pressure to perform. For such students, more messaging around the importance of taking regular breaks away from their screens may be useful and could be just the nudge they need (or for some, permission) to switch off guilt free.

On a similar note, highlighting the fact that not all learning has to take place in front of a screen could be beneficial. For example, Glean works across devices and the mobile app allows students to listen back to classes on their headphones while they’re doing something else, such as walking. The ‘Reading View’ feature also enables students to print out their notes in a fuss-free format, which can be useful for reviewing away from a screen.

Encourage other wellbeing practices

Limiting tech exposure could play a big role in some students’ wellbeing and more than ever it’s important that students are taking care of their physical and mental health. Continue to signpost support on offer at your institution, and encourage students to proactively engage in activities that are good for their health, such as getting enough physical exercise.

Prioritize

It’s important that academic staff understand the ramifications of too much technology for students. As such, it may be worth repeating the importance of prioritizing, as not everything needs to be delivered via video call. And when meetings do require a video call, the benefits of keeping them brief should be reiterated.

Request student feedback

As ever, student feedback is vital. It’s important to check-in with them to find out how they are coping with this drastically different setup. In addition to the benefit of the student feeling listened to, they may also have some useful suggestions that may not have occurred to you.

In summary

We aren’t going to see a meaningful reduction in technology anytime soon, so finding a way to help students cope with tech fatigue is essential. Universities can assist students by selecting simple technology solutions and encouraging students to take time away from their screens. Policies should also take into account student feedback. To receive more insight into how you can help your students thrive in these challenging times, why not join our mailing list?