As we enter the New Year filled with hope of a return to pre-pandemic life, we continue to face a stretch, length unknown, of virtual learning and relating. By now, we are all familiar with the ubiquitous video platform Zoom, and more than likely you are also familiar with the ‘spent’ feeling that comes after a day of Zoom sessions, known as Zoom fatigue. 

Zoom fatigue describes the mental exhaustion resulting from frequent or prolonged use of virtual platforms to communicate. This fatigue may be especially prevalent for students engaged in remote learning. When your child complains of having no energy or motivation to complete homework after 6+ hours spent on Zoom, they are not simply avoiding their homework, they are experiencing Zoom fatigue, a condition backed by research. Why does Zoom fatigue happen and what can we do to combat it?  

Contributing Factors to Zoom Fatigue

Students rapidly perceive non-verbal social cues when relating with teachers and their peers, but the virtual realm lacks these inputs, causing students’ brains to work harder than ever. Instead of relying on a glance or head nod from the teacher when attempting to participate, students must scan the virtual classroom of their peers, listen attentively for breaks in audio, or engage the ‘Raise Hand’ feature. Virtual learning and relating precludes the free-flowing dialogue that can occur in the classroom, with the milliseconds delay in audio often resulting in stilted turn-taking and consistent monitoring for the ‘right time’ to contribute. Students are also self-monitoring to consider how others are perceiving them. This monitoring of the self and monitoring of the other requires attentional shifting that is further complicated by competing stimuli on their computers and in their environments. Zoom time is taxing and students’ brains are working on overdrive. 

Below we summarize concrete steps caregivers can take to lessen the impact of Zoom fatigue for their children. 

  1. Consider Environment: Students are accustomed to using their homes and bedrooms for rest and relaxation, and when in such environments, their brains are primed to chill. Since virtual and hybrid learning may require using these same spaces for schoolwork, it is important to create designated areas conducive to learning that dissuade students from working from their bed or couch. 
  1. Reduce Distractions: Learning on a computer makes it easy for students to disengage their attention from coursework and wander to other activities, such as playing games, scrolling through social media, and texting. Caregivers can encourage students to close all computer apps not related to instruction,  turn off notifications on texting apps on their computer, store their phone in a different location, and assure students have access to an organized study space with minimal distractions
  1. Bust Myth of Multitasking: Brains are incapable of performing two activities simultaneously with the same amount of attention and focus. When attempting to ‘multitask’ students are actually shifting their attention from one task to another, in rapid succession, preventing thorough engagement in any one task. Caregivers can model giving their undivided attention to one task at a time in other contexts. They can also collaborate with students on planning out their schooldays such that each task assigned to a day has its own designated slot.
  1. Handwrite Notes: Research demonstrates that students who handwrite versus type their notes retain information to a greater extent. Handwriting notes also supports students maintaining focus on the subject matter rather than external stimuli on their computer or in their environment. Caregivers can encourage students to handwrite their notes and teach them a structure for doing so. 
  1. Take Breaks: Students frequently use breaks during virtual instruction to scroll social media, text, or surf the web, but such activities can worsen Zoom fatigue. Caregivers can remind students to use intentional breaks for stretching, physical activity, in-person check-ins with household members, and refueling with water and a healthy snack. 

We are thankful that platforms like Zoom have allowed learning and relating to continue during the Coronavirus pandemic. We also recognize that resulting Zoom fatigue can present challenges to students in directing and sustaining their attention in class, completing their assignments, and maintaining motivation. If your child could use additional support, contact Organizational Tutors to learn how executive functioning tutoring can help. 

OT Team

Author OT Team

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