Let's explore the best way to overcome anxiety in distance learners. In this day and age, what learner does not suffer from pressure, stress, or situational anxiety to one degree or another? Job, deployment, family, travel, or logistics stress seem to characterize the life of most adult learners taking courses at a distance -- whether online, hybrid, via handheld, or CD-ROM. Those anxieties, coupled with performance anxiety, can make distance learning a very scary thing. This is Part II of the "Rehearsal and Repetition Can Be Bad For Learning Series" Part 1 is here. If you're thinking of online degrees and would like to reduce the anxiety associated with it by comparing degree programs, you may check out various resources.
What is perhaps most interesting about this is that the traditional learning strategies advocated by institutions of higher learning often are less than effective -- they are absolutely destructive.
Researchers (Warr and Downing, 2000) have suggested that learning strategies that involve self-regulation are the most effective for students suffering from learning anxiety.
Their findings can be applied to online learning as well, particularly when self-regulation (control of emotions, etc.) is combined with behavioral and cognitive learning strategies for an eclectic approach.
Motivation control: Alleviating boredom and maintaining interest by building in rewards and positive reinforcement are quite effective in an online environment. The learner who is suffering from anxiety may feel motivated to persist in the studies if the instructor provides prompt and meaningful feedback, group activities help provide a sense of connection and community, and the course content is clearly relevant to the learner’s academic, life, and personal goals.
Help-Seeking and informal study group development: Learner anxiety is augmented by frustration. Frustration can result from technical difficulties, connectivity, unclear interfaces and instructions, and ambiguous performance expectations. A responsive help desk is important, as well as a robust Frequently Asked Questions page. In addition, if possible, establish an onsite mentor or team-leader if several individuals who are taking the course are in the same place of employment or military unit.
Written help-seeking: If learners are aware that they can send e-mails to more than one person, is it very helpful. Although many online programs rely on a queued approach to inquiries to the help desk, with task-sharing, it is also useful to add a personal touch to what can be a very dehumanized elearning space. Anxiety can be exacerbated by seeking help from a faceless entity known only through the design on a computer screen. Personalizing help-seeking helps assuage anxiety.
Practical application: Learning strategies that situate the content and make connections between the content and the individual learner’s lived experience are highly effective. This utilizes a constructivist epistemology and my require a rethinking and recasting of learning activities and assessment. Further, a cognitive epistemology comes into play when the individual learner makes connections, and then begins to form categories and to organize the knowledge in systems useful to the learner. Retrieval and application of information are facilitated, and the function is fluid, seamless, and meaningful when the learner can apply the knowledge to a real-life situation, or to solve a problem perceived by the learner to be urgent and relevant.
One useful benefit of using practical application as a learning strategy for students suffering from learning anxiety (whether situational or performance-related), is that the learner can employ the new learning model to other aspects of his or her life. It is more than self-regulation, and more of an eclectic approach to learning and life.
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