74% of American schools use technology in the classroom. 1/3rd of American schools issue mobile devices to students as a learning tool. About 5.8 million college students took an online course in fall 2014. Although most of us are technology savvy and able to use our devices for fun things like socializing and surfing the internet we are not skilled at online learning. That is where the anxiety comes in that can hold you back.

Understand Anxiety about Online Learning

The first thing to recognize is that anxiety is normal. Anxiety researcher Robb Dunn at North Carolina State University suggests that we experience anxiety because our primitive ancestors were somebody’s dinner. They were under constant threat to be eaten by giant hyenas, cave bears, lions, eagles, snakes, wolves, saber-toothed cats, and even giant, predatory kangaroos! When you get anxious about something like a new online course or how-to-use online learning technology your primitive brain is signaling danger, threat.

Although anxiety’s function is to motivate you to take action to survive or thrive it can seem like the opposite — like it is holding you back. The causes of anxiety are different now like technology, but the anxiety feels the same.

Anxiety is a primitive emotion that shows you care and drives you to take action, grow, and succeed. However, high anxiety interferes with learning and performance. Take a look at the picture below.

Developed by psychologists Robert Yerkes and John Dodson, 1908 this picture shows the relationship between performance and anxiety.

Looking at the picture, notice that when you are under little pressure you are bored. You are disconnected from the people and events around you. You are understimulated and not in control. Think about sitting in the DMV — you are not engaged and just waiting to be called. The important thing to remember is that the purpose of boredom is to motivate you to engage with someone or something — to get you actively involved with your life. When you are bored during an online course it means that you are not engaged. We will look a few key tips to get engaged later.

But first, let’s revisit anxiety’s role in helping you. Ideally, you want to be in the middle of the curve where you are a little anxious, but not stressed out to the point where you cannot do well. To manage anxiety in an online course start with these tips.

Before You Start

Tip: Check your system requirements.

  • Make sure your internet speed is fast enough to access and interact with the course (the requirements will be published ahead of the course).
  • Make certain you use the recommended browser. Download it for free if you need to.

Tip: Set cookie, pop-up blocker, and security features ahead of the course start date to allow all features of the course to load.

When You Land on a Course Homepage for the first time, do this

Tip: Take note of the instructor and when and how to contact him or her. Read the biography to humanize online learning.

Tip: Read the course syllabus first.

Tip: Take accountability and create certainty by putting due dates in a planner.

Doing these things will help, but there is still that nagging feeling “does this really work?” To create value in online learning, think about the fact that you remember:

  • 90% of what you do
  • 70% of what you say and write
  • 30% of what you see
  • 20% of what you hear
  • 10% of what you read

Writing is the most important aspect of an online course. It is how you engage with the instructor and other students and finish the work to pass the course. It is also how we measure the contact hours to give you credit for the course.

Tip: If you are uncertain about your writing, seek help from student services immediately.

Tip: Stay engaged with assessments and discussion boards.

Remember that when you are bored you are not engaged. Many people say online learning is “boring”. It is because they feel disconnected. To better engage online recognize these key parts of your classroom and what they are used for.

  1. Microcontent – These are three to five-minute podcasts, webinars, short video lectures, Camtasia voice overs, etc. of intentionally focused content. They are there to help you focus and engage for very short periods of time when you can like while commuting or during lunch break.
  2. Gamification – These are incentives and rewards like ribbons and badges based on your course core competencies that show small progress along the way to keep you motivated.

Online learning is not going anywhere. In fact, we expect it to only increase based on trends.

Technology related stress and anxiety is normal and adaptive. It can be used to your advantage to motivate and engage you. By understanding a few key pieces of the online classroom puzzle you can reduce your anxiety about online learning and improve your learning results.