Monday, November 10, 2008

Burn-out and Online Instruction: Ten Tips to Revive Your Online Course and Yourself

By Jody Oomen-Early, Ph.D., M.S, CHES

Feeling tired, drained and unmotivated when it comes to online instruction? The malaise you are experiencing might be a symptom of something I’ve deemed, “Online Burn-out.” This burnout can happen to any of us, no matter how many (or few) online courses we’ve taught or developed. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to remedy this condition, and hence the purpose of this blog. Over the next five days, I’ll share with you my own experience with “Online Burnout” and tips for reviving your class and yourself! I hope to also generate some discussion with all of you about your own experiences and insight.

How I "hit a wall" and bounced back

I’ve been teaching since 1991, and teaching online since 2001. E-learning has always been an incredible journey and “new frontier” for me; its invigorating and evolving—which is why I love it. I’ve always felt a certain sense of excitement when discussing E-learning philosophies, pedagogy, or instructional strategies with others, and creating active, energetic online classrooms. Applying technology to health education has offered me a unique path to walk in my field. So, it was disheartening for me to “ hit a wall” this past year when it came to my online instruction.

I don’t really know how or when it started. Things just started to feel really monotonous. I was tired. I couldn’t seem to get rid of that “always on” feeling, and I wasn’t exhibiting much enthusiasm with my online students. Pretty soon, I was “going through the motions” and not feeling much “E-motion” at all. It wasn’t long before this "virus" had spread to my students. My apathy was matched by my students’ lackluster discussion posts.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I’ve learned that if you’re not careful, your discussion board (and your teaching performance) can slip into a coma. Without the energy and active facilitation of a motivated and engaged online instructor, a virtual classroom can become nothing more than a hitching post of vague responses posted by tired students who just want to “get it done” and log in just enough to get the assignments submitted. This was the complete opposite of the wellspring of constructivist dialogue and critical think that I had always envisioned for my online students. Hence, I began to realize I was suffering from some form of professional and online burnout and needed a remedy—for both me and my students’ sake.

Burnout is not recognized in the DSM-IV, so how do you treat it?

Unlike conditions such as depression or post traumatic stress, burnout is far less discussed. Perhaps this is because in our “achievement-oriented” society, no one wants to appear that they are giving less than their all? It’s not a condition described in the DSM-IV, so how do you treat it?

My first step toward reducing my burnout was attending the Sloan-C’s International Emerging Technologies Applications for Online Learning in Carefree, AZ. It re-lit my fire for online instruction and got me integrating some free and easy Web 2.0 tools, which really energized my online classroom and improved my dialogue and interaction with my students. It also inspired some research projects currently underway.

One of the biggest complaints about E-learning from both online instructors and students is that the online experience can seem impersonal or isolating. Over the years, I have heard from many faculty and students that online learning lacks the “affective” appeal that many face to face courses provide. I know for me, this was a factor that largely contributed to the burnout I was feeling. When I became “reconnected,” it was easy to get my students—and myself—engaged.

So what can advice can I offer you? Over the next 5 days, I’ll be offer ten tips that might help you re-energize your online classes and yourself. Please feel free to post your own ideas and experiences as well!

Tip #1: Expand your horizons

Try attending a conference, webinar, or workshop relating to E-learning. Delve into an E-learning journal or newsletter that can help you strengthen your online teaching skills, help you save time or better manage your workload, and spark ideas to apply to your own online courserooms.

E-learning Conferences, Workshops, and Webinars

While time is short for all of us, a conference on E-learning or even a simple 1-hour workshop or webcast can do wonders to spark your interest and motivation for online learning. Some of the most popular E-learning conferences include:

*Educause: One of the most preeminent associations relating to higher education and technology. Find out more about their annual conference by going to:

*The Sloan-C Annual Conference (in the Fall) and their Emerging
Technologies International Symposium (in the Spring). Find more information at

*E-learn 2009: An international conference sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Computers in Education (AACE). Learn more by visiting:

*E-learning 2009: Sponsored by the Instructional Technology Council, this annual conference includes pre-conference workshops, keynote speakers, vendors exhibiting the latest e-learning technologies and services, and nearly 60 one-hour concurrent sessions.

*3rd Annual Texas Educational Technology Research Symposium (in Austin in
Feb. 09): A venue for educational technology researchers and higher educational
professionals to share their expertise and research relating to E-learning. Find out
more at:

*12th Annual Texas Distance Learning Association Conference (Corpus Christi, April 6th-9th): Includes pre-conference workshops, keynote speakers, vendors, and break-out sessions exhibiting the latest e-learning technologies and research for educators, administrators, and instructional designers.

Out of travel funds? Try a webinar!

*The Sloan-C, USDLA, and Magna Publications sponsor online webinars(synchronous and asynchronous) relating to E-learning and instruction. Visit,, or to view a list of scheduled pod, vod, and webcasts. TWU has special rates relating to its membership with these organizations, and the Office of Lifelong Learning has offered several of these throughout the year. If you find one that interests you, email Dr. Keith Restine or Dr. Lynda Murphy to see if the presentation might be made available to TWU faculty and staff.

*TWU’s Online Teaching Symposium (TWU, Denton): The Office of Lifelong Learning and many of your fellow TWU faculty and staff facilitate this annual event (held during Faculty Development Week in the Fall) to help administrators, faculty, and staff learn more about E-learning and share best practices in the field.

Read all about it!

Keep current with the latest technologies, strategies, and
research by subscribing to one or some of the leading journals in the field or by
visiting open-source websites (such as Sloan-C) that publish on best practices.

Some popular journals relating to E-learning include:

*International Journal of E-Learning (IJEL)
*Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT)
*Online Classroom
*Academic Leader
*American Journal of Distance Education (AJDE)
*Journal of Technology and Teacher Education (JTATE)
*The Internet and Higher Education
*Journal of Interactive Learning Research
* Journal of Research on Technology in Education (JRTE)
*E-learning-It Blog (
*The Online Instructor (TWU’s blog)

It's easy to justify our reluctance to attend continuing education opportunities related to E-learning, especially when technology may not seem directly related to our personal research interests or primary professional responsibilities. Time, of course, is always our most limited resource. However, taking even 10 minutes to look over a monthly periodical or "tune in" for a desktop, lunchtime webinar could be just what we need to restock our energy stores and find a better way to create, manage, and faciliate our online classrooms. This is a vital step to overcoming "Online Burnout" and why I have positioned it as my first tip.

I look forward to sharing more with you throughout the week. Please feel free to post your own suggestions as well as add to my list of conferences, webinars, and E-learning literature.



  1. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I know there are other online instructors who feel (or has felt) the same way as you one time or another. While I've only been teaching online for a couple of semesters, I completed both my undergraduate and graduate degree in online programs.

    I love every aspect of online teaching, but I have to admit that it is a challenge to facilitate social networking through this venue. Though available, the majority of the students are considered "nontraditional" and are faced with working 40 hour weeks, while preparing dinner for their families - squeezing any free time they have to complete their assignments within the due date! Yes, the majority of them are successful, but many do not have the time to engage in chat rooms discussions. I admit that I feel at a lost of ideas for them.

    Will the new tools or activities engage them more? Or do the students just want to complete their work?

    After reading your recommendations, I will try to sign up for a conference. Hopefully, the synergy of all the attendees will keep me motivated! Thank you for your ideas and I look forward to reading more of your postings.

  2. Oh, I can definitely relate to your experience with introducing Web 2.0 tools. However, like anything that is 'new', the students may feel some resistance at first.
    When I introduced my class to, for example, I made it extra credit. I allowed them to explore our Ning site at their leisure the first 3 weeks, and I would add content that was interesting. Pretty soon, their peers started to participate, and then it just snowballed until most of the students were at least checking in to post a comment for their friend. I did have some that did not choose to participate, but they may be the types that don't NEED more social support.

    This is why I use social networking as just an optional experience.

    For other tools, such as blogs, or wikis, or vodcasts, these are built in as assignments that I introduce from the very "get-go" with a tutorial the first week of class. I allow them to practice, I host a conference call, and then when their nerves are settled, they actually begin to see the value (and the fun) in the new tool.

    I agree, though--we have to think about our students' needs and resources, first. I'm not sure, for example, that Second Life is something I'll use as a teaching tool for a long while. ;-)

    Thanks for posting your comments!!!