This Is What Happens to Your Brain During Online Classes

Online classes aren't easy at all.
by Mylene Mendoza   |  Aug 14, 2020
Art: Hannah Villafuerte
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Now that most schools are about to resume classes online, students will have to master the routine of going on video calls for synchronous learning. And although it might seem effortless for us to be in front of our computer screen for a long amount of time (at this point, we're probably experts at it), science says it's actually not!

We may no longer be tiring ourselves out with commuting to school, but studying from home produces its own kind of exhaustion. Have you ever heard of the new phenomenon called "Zoom fatigue?" It's the kind of ~tired~ you'll feel when you spend a long period of time doing video calls, the way you do with your online lectures. Although it's named after the popular video conferencing platform Zoom, the effect is applicable and similarly felt even when you use other identical apps like Skype or Messenger.

What exactly causes Zoom fatigue?

This isn't the kind of fatigue brought about by physical exertion. Rather, it's the type of exhaustion that we experience mentally.


Difficulty picking up social cues

Classes are a social setting, first and foremost. Now that it's done digitally, the traditional way of interaction has been removed from the equation, which makes it harder for us to pick up social cues.

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In an article on, American Psychological Association co-chair Brian Wind, PhD shares, "When we interact with people face to face, we're not only listening to their voices and looking at their faces—we're picking up on social cues, like hand movements, body movements, and even a person's energy." Now that everyone else is just a rectangular blob on your screen, however, our brains now have to put in extra effort to process information from social interactions.


Aside from the added difficulty of picking up social cues, postulates that we become extra tired after video calls because the setting means we're constantly "under the spotlight." Unlike in a traditional classroom where your classmates aren't constantly looking at you, online classrooms through video conferences put all your faces side by side on one screen even when you're not speaking, which means you're exposed for everyone to see for the entire duration of your session. This makes you feel more conscious and more inclined to portray yourself in a certain way, which is added work for your brain.


Internet connection problems

There's also the issue of poor connectivity, which disrupts the flow of the class and prevents participants from receiving real-time reactions. Isn't it also somewhat overwhelming when you end up speaking simultaneously because your internet connections are lagging? 

Why it's hard to focus on online lectures even if you try

Because your home is not a classroom, it can be harder for you to stay focused during online classes. You may be easily distracted by things around your house, the people you live with, your neighbor's barking dog, or a tricycle passing by, among other external factors you can't control.

It's also possibly because you're just ~mentally~ tired. According to, one way mental fatigue can manifest is through the inability to stay focused. When your brain is tired, it gets extra harder to complete a task. 

But it's note entirely hopeless. There are little things you can do to address this struggle. Friendly note: We aren't always on top of our tasks and we will have bad days, especially since we're in the middle a worldwide health crisis. It's okay to take it one step at a time! You don't have to rush the process of getting yourself together.



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Mylene Mendoza
Candy Staff Writer
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