Burnout has been described as a condition whereby repeated and prolonged exposure to work/task related stressors causes a person to sustain emotional, mental or physical fatigue. Burnout could manifest through emotional exhaustion, low self-esteem, and indifference toward others. This unpalatable phenomenon could impact negatively on a person’s competence level and it could also engender a feeling of resentment towards those for whom services are provided.
In an online learning environment, the potential for burn-out cannot be overstated. Learners are often busy with work and family. The rigour of a Master’s programme might quickly put them under immense pressure. It is imperative therefore that an instructor is alive to the signs of burn-out. Typical signs of burn-out are unusual irritability, exhaustion and fatigue, detachment from tasks and assignment, and a feeling of powerlessness.
Given that online instructors are deprived of the benefit of face-to-face learning which might make it easier for them to spot any of the above mentioned signs, it becomes even more imperative that online instructors are sensitive to the plight of their students. As an instructor, I will begin to observe signs of burn out if one or some of my students who has been previously active in class discussions dramatically reduces their level of interaction. At this point, I will note my concern to the student and make myself available should they so require. Another sign would be where a student who has been previously diligent begins to ask for extensions for submitting assignments and tasks.
Where the problem of burn-out has been identifies, I will advise the student to seek a work –life balance by better managing their time. This could be achieved by setting clear boundaries between work, school, and home. The student will be advised to diarise their daily activities which they should stick to. The student will also be advised to exercise self-discipline by not letting work hang till the last minute which could easily heighten the pressure and lead to burn-out.
H Freudenberger, “Staff Burnout” (1974) 30 Journal of Social issues 159-165; A Pavlakis and D Kaitelidou “Burnout Syndrome in Students of a Distance Learning Program: The Open University of Cyprus Experience” [http://www.eurodl.org/?article=485].
Professor John Moore, “Warning Signs of Burn-out and How to Beat it” http://onlinelearningtips.com/2010/11/16/warning-signs-of-burnout-and-how-to-beat-it/