How burnout affects online instructors—and what colleges can do about it

Online instructors face a particular risk for burnout, according to Rebecca Stout, lead faculty for sociology within the general education program at Colorado Technical University.

Stout presented her research about burnout and online instruction at the 2017 Online Learning Consortium Accelerate Conference, Tina Nazerian writes for EdSurge.

According to Stout, signs of burnout among online instructors may include irritability, apathy, withdrawal from social activities, and exhaustion.

Burnout is extremely common among American workers generally, but Stout said studies have not yet conclusively estimated its prevalence among online instructors specifically. In her own research of faculty at an institution that asked to remain anonymous, Stout found that online instructors "did experience moderate levels of burnout," Nazerian writes.

Five tips to fight workplace burnout

Stout identified a number of possible contributors to burnout among online instructors.

First, the schedule can be more demanding than instructors expect. "It happens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you never get a day off," Stout said.

Second, because online instructors work remotely, they don't always get the same level of support that face-to-face instructors receive, she said.

Similarly, Strout added, instructors often begin teaching online without the kind of preparation and training instructors receive before teaching face-to-face classes. "If you're in graduate school, you often work as a teaching assistant, you're under a mentoring program, you're taught to be a teacher. Online teaching is not necessarily the same," she said.

To prevent burnout among online instructors, campus leaders can encourage faculty to build stronger relationships with online students, their peers, and the institution, Stout recommended.

She also suggested making sure online instructors know they can set boundaries on student communication and disconnect in the evenings (Nazerian, EdSurge, 11/16).

The stakes to avoid burnout are higher for education leaders

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