The Stress of Online Learning

The Stress of Online Learning

Deana L. Molinari (Idaho State University, USA), Alice E. Dupler (Washington State University Intercollegiate College of Nursing, USA) and Naomi Lungstrom (Washington State University Intercollegiate College of Nursing, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch285
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Abstract

Stress is recognized today as impacting both quality and length of life (Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser, 2002). Stress was defined by Hans Seyle (1936) as the unspecified physiological response to aversive stimuli. The stress of learning is not yet understood. If stress impacts physical and emotional well-being, and lifelong learning is needed to survive in the information age, then a study of the stress of learning may impact both nursing and educational practice. Learning stress can create a number of long-term physiological and performance complications. Stress reduces immune function, making people vulnerable to disease. Studies indicate stress hormone levels can be predictive of relationship problems and chronic disease. Reducing stress could avoid colds, flu, and mild depressive symptoms, which complicate student relationships and achievements, thus increasing stress (Glaser, Robles, Malarkey, Sheridan & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2004). Stress also blocks learning by limiting perceptions, thinking, and memory capabilities during performance, triggering higher levels of stress during later performance events (Sapolsky, 1998). The inability to think or remember concepts, procedures, and methods during patient encounters can threaten lives.
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Introduction

Stress is recognized today as impacting both quality and length of life (Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser, 2002). Stress was defined by Hans Seyle (1936) as the unspecified physiological response to aversive stimuli. The stress of learning is not yet understood. If stress impacts physical and emotional well-being, and lifelong learning is needed to survive in the information age, then a study of the stress of learning may impact both nursing and educational practice.

Learning stress can create a number of long-term physiological and performance complications. Stress reduces immune function, making people vulnerable to disease. Studies indicate stress hormone levels can be predictive of relationship problems and chronic disease. Reducing stress could avoid colds, flu, and mild depressive symptoms, which complicate student relationships and achievements, thus increasing stress (Glaser, Robles, Malarkey, Sheridan & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2004). Stress also blocks learning by limiting perceptions, thinking, and memory capabilities during performance, triggering higher levels of stress during later performance events (Sapolsky, 1998). The inability to think or remember concepts, procedures, and methods during patient encounters can threaten lives.

Until recently, researchers found measuring learner stress under normal everyday conditions challenging. Self-report methods are unreliable due to the filtering that occurs between the experience and the report (National Space Biomedical Research Institute, 2003; Razavi, 2001). Measurement of physiological function during events is considered the most reliable reading of lived experience. The measurement of cortisol and cardiopulmonary variables provides a picture of stress as it occurs.

Increased glucocorticoids impair memory function (Kilpatrick & Cahill, 2003), problem solving, and spatial recognition memory (Rozzendaal, de Quervain, Ferry, Setlow, & McGaugh, 2001; McEwen & Seeman, 2003). Cortisol, a glucocorticoid, is regulated by the adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) (Carrasco & VandeKar, 2003) and plays a major role in stress (Charney, 2004), learning, and memory processes (Bremner et al., 2004) that underlie behavioral adaptation (Gesing et al., 2001). Salivary cortisol reacts within 10-20 minutes of a stressor.

Cardiac and respiratory systems instantaneously respond to perceptions (Sapolsky, 1998). Until recently, heart and respiratory variables could only be measured periodically, providing a snapshot of physiological fluctuations which can miss peak and valley responses. Recent technology advances make it possible to include biophysical measures in educational design models.

Nursing school is considered a stressful education experience (Hughes et al., 2003). Students experience stress-related ailments like ulcers and autoimmune disease (Heath, Macera & Nieman, 1992; Reid, Mackinnon & Drummond, 2001). This motivates colleges to provide stress intervention programs (Pitts, 2000). After graduation, nursing is considered a high-stress profession where role strain and burnout are frequent occurrences. The complex job requires making life and death decisions under pressure, and few rewards counter the job demands (Siegrist, 2000). Although nursing is an extremely stressful profession, the measurement of educational stress is an important topic for most professions.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Learning Allostatic Load: The accumulation of perceptions and decisions that develop into self-esteem and protective strategies that may or may not be beneficial to future learning events.

Cortisol: A stress hormone that activates the “flight or fight” syndrome.

Learning Allostatis: The constant changes an individual makes to maintain homeostatis. The actions are in response to learning and life events that impact knowledge and performance.

Learning Allostatis Model: A whole-person model describing learner characteristics and relationships to stress and learning.

Stress: The physical and psychological reaction to aversive stimuli.

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