We recently examined the rise of academic ghosting, which could stem from another issue — a lack of digital wellness in higher education. See how your students can benefit when your university makes digital wellness a cultural touchstone in this article from Julie Delich, our Vice President of Retention and Student Support, and Amy Blankson, Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute.
When the pandemic began, it caused drastic disruptions to the ways people work and learn. For many, those disruptions have become permanent transformations.
According to Sallie Mae, 3 in 4 college students want to continue taking classes online, even after they return to campus. Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center study found many remote employees aren’t returning to the office. This shift to remote work usually isn’t due to COVID-19 concerns — they simply prefer working at home.
Naturally, increases in remote work and learning have led to more screentime. In fact, recent data shows screentime for adolescents doubled after the pandemic began. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety have risen, too.
These findings show why it’s essential to help your online learners maintain their mental health and avoid digital burnout. And it starts with making digital wellness central to your culture.
What is digital wellness? It’s the “optimum state of health and well-being that each individual using technology is capable of achieving.” When your programs use technology mindfully, you can enable learners “to live more fully within the human, natural, and digital communities.”
The 8 pillars of digital wellness
The Digital Wellness Institute uses a Digital Flourishing model that offers a research-based approach to bringing digital wellness into your culture. This model is built on eight pillars for using technology in healthier ways, serving as a blueprint for making digital wellness a cultural touchstone at your university.
Let’s walk through the eight pillars, highlighting ideas for helping your learners achieve digital wellness.
Pillar 1. Productivity
By becoming more productive, students spend less time completing online coursework. Your academic counselors can help by offering ideas for avoiding distractions (turning off other media while working on assignments is a good starting point). And providing time management guidance can aid a learner’s efforts to balance their school and work commitments.
Pillar 2. Environment
Have you ever felt overwhelmed after realizing you have dozens of browser tabs open? That’s one example of the digital clutter that can bog down a learner’s performance. Suggesting ways to keep digital and physical workspaces tidy could help learners reduce their stress. It also lets them feel in control of their coursework.
Pillar 3. Communication
On average, Americans look at their phone nearly 60 times a day. Add an online program to the mix, and that number could climb. By suggesting ways to set life-tech boundaries, your learners could avoid an online overload. For instance, they could silence smartphone notifications to reduce digital interruptions to their routines.
Pillar 4. Relationships
Spending time with peers and family gives learners a sense of belonging as they pursue a degree online. Your faculty can also structure online classes in ways that build community among learners.
Pillar 5. Mental health
Offering self-care strategies allows learners to keep their well-being top of mind as they study online. Your advisors can also boost a student’s perseverance by reminding them about their reason for seeking a degree, such as a desire to change careers or earn a promotion.
Pillar 6. Physical health
Studies have shown that learners can improve their mental health by exercising. So, encouraging movement breaks could support your learners’ digital wellness. You can also offer ideas for healthy sleep habits, such as limiting smartphone use before bed.
Pillar 7. Quantified self
Wearables and exercise apps allow learners to keep tabs on their physical activity, sleep habits, and other health metrics. Digital fitness tools also let learners gamify workouts, making them more enjoyable and sustainable.
Pillar 8. Digital citizenship
Providing ideas for acting responsibly online can instill a healthier relationship with technology. Start by suggesting ways for learners to protect their privacy, prevent data risks, and shrink their digital footprint. Mindfulness about the quality of the online content they consume goes a long way, too.
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Immediate ways to promote digital well-being
Making digital wellness central to your culture takes time. Fortunately, there are steps your faculty and advisors can take today to begin promoting your learners’ digital health.
To help learners make the most of their screentime, you can:
Keep lectures short and sweet
The typical attention span is about 8 seconds. So, it’s understandable that a learner’s interest would fade during a lengthy online lecture. To make things more interesting, encourage your professors to divide lessons into shorter chunks. This approach can reduce screentime while increasing student engagement and academic performance.
Tailor your support
Before your faculty can support each learner, they’ll need to know what makes them tick. As such, your faculty should check if learners have hectic work schedules or heavy course loads. Knowing these details could help faculty set an assignment cadence learners can manage.
Watch for warning signs
When learners skip synchronous sessions or don’t log into class, it could signify that their well-being has faltered. It may also indicate they may ghost class altogether. So, it’s vital for your faculty and academic counselors to check on inactive learners. That outreach provides opportunities to provide reminders about the services your university offers, such as tutoring and mental health counseling.
Unlock your learners’ strengths
Each learner has unique strengths that can help them thrive in online programs. That’s why our advisors use an Online Student Advising Model that enables students to uncover and apply their strengths. This engagement follows the 5 Cs, as we:
- Connect with learners to understand their specific concerns
- Create confidence by identifying the learner’s strengths
- Challenge each learner to believe they can succeed
- Collaborate with the learner on an action plan
- Commit to the plan and ask the learner to do the same
Unlocking these strengths is especially important for learners struggling with remote instruction. And it does more than help them excel in online classes — they’ll also build strategies that foster success if they work remotely after graduation.
That’s important because little separates the digital and physical worlds. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang discussed with Time, tech is embedded in nearly every aspect of daily life, from growing food to traveling to accessing healthcare. (And, of course, pursuing a college degree.)
It’s safe to say online education isn’t a short-term trend. As such, higher ed must create digital cultures that value a learner’s mental prowess and mental health.
Create a culture of digital wellness
Do you want to design and sustain academic programs that put learners on track to long-term success? Check out our flexible support services today. We can help you offer career-connected education backed by the support learners need to persist and graduate.
For strategies that can put your university on the path to digital flourishing, visit the Digital Wellness Institute.
About the Authors
Dr. Julie Delich is our Vice President of Retention and Student Support. Julie has 18 years of higher education experience and strives to find opportunities to increase our positive impact on students. Her team works with potential students from the moment they register for their first courses through graduation.
Prior to her involvement in higher education, Julie was an outpatient mental health therapist specializing in treating anxiety disorders and women’s health issues. She earned a Doctorate in Education Leadership from Concordia University, St. Paul. She also attained a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Millersville University.
Amy Blankson is the Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute and bestselling author of The Future of Happiness. A graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Management, she’s the only person to receive a Point of Light award from two U.S. presidents. She is also a member of the UN Global Happiness Council, a Fellow of the World Innovation Organization, a featured professor in Oprah’s happiness e-course, and a regular contributor to Forbes. Her current work focuses on how to cultivate happiness and well-being in the digital era.