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Done right, online learning might be as engaging as face-to-face

By: Sunny Liu

During the pandemic, almost everyone had to take classes online. But it wasn’t known if kids would learn well that way. Last year, one research group compared online lessons with in-person learning. They wanted to see how well each type of learning engaged students.

The team conducted two studies that involved recruiting medical students. One group attended class in person, while the other group attended class online via Zoom. Both groups listened to lectures and examined slides under a microscope, with the online course utilizing a virtual microscope app.

The researchers evaluated stress levels in both groups. This was done to understand how stress isn't always harmful, as explained by Morris Gellisch, a biologist who led the research on stress, behavior, and learning, at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

According to a 2019 study, a moderate level of stress can serve as a source of motivation for individuals, making them more attentive and involved in their surroundings. This type of stress can have a positive impact on learning. Gellisch's team tracked the students' heart rates and cortisol levels in their saliva to monitor their stress levels during lessons. Cortisol is a hormone that is released when individuals experience stress.

However, there was a visible difference in their physical appearances. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, cortisol and heart rate increase, which signals a "fight or flight" response and prepares the body for action. In-person students displayed higher levels of both. This physical response can be triggered by the anticipation of being called on in class, as the body prepares for possible action.

According to research shared last summer in Anatomical Sciences Education, it has been concluded that in-person classes are more effective than online classes.

Not all lessons are the same. Some are more passive, where you sit and listen to the teacher. However, active learning requires your involvement. This may mean answering questions in front of others or participating in group discussions about the material.

Regarding the Ruhr University group, further information is needed to provide a response.

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