Resistance—A Silent Thief Robbing Online Students from Graduating On Time
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
A common complaint I hear from online learners is that they HATE taking online classes. These students absolutely believe that they learn better in a traditional classroom and that online courses are inferior to conventional face-to-face learning. While I agree with them in some cases, I try to encourage them to explore what lies at the heart of their opinions.
Some students have had a bad experience with online classes, but others struggle to find a valid reason. If you fall into the category of hating online courses but can’t seem to put your finger on the exact reason you feel this way, you need to read it! In this post, I’m going to explain why some online students are resistant to learning in the digital age – the answer might not be as simple as you think. So, if you want to know how resistance feeds your distaste for online classes, keep reading. ⬇️
At the end of this post, you’ll understand better the factors contributing to your aversion to online learning. I’ll also share a story about how I worked with a student who was resisting the online learning process and didn’t realize what was happening. Finally, I share a strategy that helps you get to the root of your resistance, so you can regain your motivation to get your online classwork DONE! 😊
Resistance or preference: What’s holding you back in online learning?
I recently had the incredible experience of being a guest on a podcast talk show hosted by one of my long-time colleagues. During the show, the host asked me why I think so many students resist online learning. The answer to the problem is clear to me, yet I realized that many students don’t understand the source of their resistance. The most common explanation I hear from students who are struggling with online education is that they prefer to learn in a face-to-face environment. Humans are social creatures, so it certainly makes sense to favor this format.
However, I think students often fail to see that similar challenges exist in traditional learning and online learning. Factors like time management, learning how to use technology, and staying motivated do not vary in either modality. Still, I find that most students lack an understanding of their relationship to the online learning process. This lack of knowledge often presents obstacles that impede their ability to learn in the online education process.
During my years of in-person and online teaching, I have observed areas of resistance among students in both online and on-ground formats. Face-to-face students showed opposition to the learning process when they arrived to class late, left before class ended, and did not participate in discussions and other class activities. The behaviors highlighted here suggested disengagement, which I think originates from unconscious resistance. Similarly, online students also demonstrated resistance behaviors. A student who fails to log on to their course for a week, for example, is demonstrating resistance in the form of disengagement.
Now, let me pause here for a minute. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, so I want to explain my point. I’ve been teaching for almost two decades, which is longer than I care to admit. During that time, I’ve learned that students do encounter real-life challenges that prevent them from participating in online classes. Circumstances like illness, death, and work obligations arise from time to time, and they can be devastating and throw students off balance. However, in this context, I am referring to how students respond to situations like these that leave them feeling disempowered to complete their online coursework.
When students begin feeling unenthusiastic about online learning, they might be overlooking the resistance behind those feelings that keep them from putting forth the effort needed to reach their academic goals.
So, how does resistance show up in the journey to finishing online classes and graduating on time? Resistance occurs when students try to separate the learning experience from their human experience. Online learning requires discovering new skills and abilities, including resilience. In my opinion, this discovery is a part of the human condition.
As we learn what it means to be successful, we are continually developing and evolving how we think about our skills. No matter how young or old, you must acquire new abilities to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing environment. The same approach applies to learning regardless if it’s online or in a traditional face-to-face setting.
Once you’ve read this post, you will have a clear understanding of the thoughts and feelings holding you back in your online courses. Having more in-depth knowledge of what’s happening in your Think-Feel-Act Model will help you remove those roadblocks so you can log on, log off, and graduate on time! 🎓
If you’re new to the blog and you want to know more about the Think-Feel-Act Model, check out this post.
Resistance happens when we separate learning experiences from the human experience
In my life, I have had a lot of success and failure, heartache and pain, joy, and sorrow. I don’t shy away from using the word failure because I’ve accepted that not succeeding is a part of the human experience. My life experiences have taught me to take the good with the bad, the positive with the negative, and the happy with the sad because they are the bookends to the range of human emotions. ⚖ But some of my online students have not reached this level of knowledge.
Some of my online students forget to bring compassion and acceptance to their learning experiences. Some of them strive to achieve a level of perfection that’s simply unattainable. The primary purpose of learning is to acquire new knowledge and skills, especially knowledge about yourself. However, learning about yourself is not always rainbows 🌈 and sunshine. In fact, the learning process can be quite painful at times.
For now, let’s focus on how resistance shows up in the online learning process. I’ll talk more about the psychological learning traumas that students carry with them in another post. It’s helpful to have an example that illustrates the concept I’m explaining.
The case of James - How resistance shows up in online learning
Let’s look at the case of one of my students, James. James called me one day to explain why he had fallen behind in class. He had been recently promoted at work and was struggling to balance the demands of his new position and his role as a father to a 5-year old son.
James didn’t seem too bothered about falling behind at work or school, but he was devastated about not being able to spend time with his son. He was experiencing a great deal of guilt about not doing the things he used to do with his son because he was spending too much time on school and work. The underlying issue behind James’s feelings was that he was having a terrible time with time management.
As we talked, I listened 👂 to James tell me that he didn’t have time to go out in the yard and play with his son anymore. He didn’t have time to watch movies with his son because he was trying to catch up on his assignments after working long hours. James told me repeatedly that he was using all of the techniques and strategies he knew, but nothing was working. He just couldn’t seem to get his head above water so that he could spend quality time with his kid.
I asked James to consider that his life had changed dramatically since he got a promotion. The main question I posed to him was: Why did he think the approaches he was using previously would produce the same results? 🤔 He paused for a second before responding. Then, he agreed that he had been using the same techniques but hadn’t accepted that his situation was different.
I explained that life changes every day, and so do the rules we have to play by. You can’t expect that what you did yesterday will work for today’s challenges. James had overlooked the reality that my class had different requirements and time commitments than his previous course. He had also missed the fact that his son was older now, so the time and attention he required had also changed.
James needed to rethink his human experience and align it with his student experience, especially in relation to time management. James would also have to rethink his human experience by examining the image he held of himself as a dad. Without bridging the gap between his human experience and his student experience, James was creating unconscious resistance that hindered his ability to get his classwork done. That resistance showed up as shame and guilt, which paralyzed him from making the necessary changes to obtain his desired results at home, work, and school.
The student experience is a human experience
To help James take the first steps toward eliminating his opposition to his online classes, I asked him to try calendaring 📅 for one week to see if he could get a better grasp on his commitments, especially spending quality time with his son. In addition to his job and online classes, I encouraged him to think about where he could spend one to two hours with his son after work each day and block off time on the weekends for father-son activities. At the end of the one-week experiment, James and I planned a follow-up call.
When we had our follow-up call, James had good news! He told me that it took him a day or two to get used to scheduling because he had never strictly adhered to a calendar before. Once James got the hang of it, he realized that he was more disciplined about how he spent his work time because he was looking forward to the time he would spend with his son after work. After he got in his quality time with his son, his conscious was clear, and he was able to focus on his classwork so he could get back on track. He no longer felt like he was neglecting his responsibilities as a parent or a student. This was a huge win for James. 🏆
During the conversation, James told me that my perspective stuck with him. He admitted to getting caught in a pattern of trying to solve new problems using old approaches. This is a common trap we fall into at times because it feels safe and comfortable. A false sense of security distorts how we think about the problems we encounter. Complicating the matter further is that our brains don’t want to spend time and energy creating new solutions for the unique circumstances that life hands us each day.
James made an important discovery: The student experience is a part of the human experience, and separating the two creates resistance that we may not recognize. Being in school and taking online classes are not just about completing coursework and jumping through the hoops. If you’re like James, then you have to learn how to complete your coursework in the context of your complex life situations, like caring for a family, managing employees at work, or dealing with crises that impact the larger society, such as pandemics, failing economies, and social injustices. These are the things that connect us as humans, and learning online isn’t isolated from these realities. Thanks to James, we can take a deep dive into our own issues that cause resistance. Let’s give James a round of applause! 👏
The next time you start beating yourself up about not being the perfect student, the ideal parent, the best partner, or the best colleague at work, pause for a minute and see if you can identify what’s causing those thoughts. Are you feeling some resentment about a role you think you’re not living up to? Try to observe and name the specific thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing.
Once you can put a name to what’s happening in your Think-Feel-Act Model, try choosing a new thought that produces a feeling that helps you get unstuck so you can take action that helps you get back on track on your online classes.
If you want to learn how to change specific thoughts, schedule a FREE session with me. It’s totally free and you’re not obligated to purchase anything.
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That’s all for now. I’ll see you next time during my Office Hours!
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