Students receiving online lessons show lower levels of stress compared to those taught in person, a new study has found.

Moderate levels of stress can be beneficial in the context of learning, so researchers set out to establish if there was any difference in how the body responds to learning online rather than face-to-face.

A team from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany found that levels of physiological stress were lower in students who attended seminars online, after looking at various physiological measures including heart rate variability and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Morris Gellisch who headed up the study alongside Professor Beate Brand-Saberi, said: “We know that stress strongly affects learning and memory processes, as well as on sustaining attention.

“To date, the differences between in-person and online teaching have often been assessed using questionnaires in which subjective parameters such as motivation or perceived stress were surveyed.

“But since learning has a definite physiological component, this raised the question of whether there are any differences in this regard as well.”

The team studied 82 students enrolled on an anatomy course who attended lessons both in the classroom and online. The researchers measured heart rate variability for two hours and took salvia samples; students attending online carried out the measurements themselves following instruction.

The measurements of tension revealed that students attending online were more relaxed.

Questionnaires revealed another finding: increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system was found to correlate with higher enjoyment levels in those who attended the in-person lesson. This relationship was not found in those attending online.

The study has been published in Anatomical Sciences Education.

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