Social Emotional Impact of Online Courses


Mid winter weather, long semesters and busy schedules can lead people to feel isolated and lonely by limiting the amount of contact and interaction one has with other people. It may be challenging, yet making intentional effort to keep connected with others is important to reduce these feelings. Although staying connected through our devices and online learning is helpful and convenient, keeping a balance of other face-to-face positive interactions is key.

Research shows that depression and loneliness increase the more time a person spends online.  To help reduce these feelings, a person should have live, simultaneous interaction with others.  According to Garrison, “online students are in greater need of higher-level social presence, which has a strong effect on their learning achievement and satisfaction. “ (Garrison, p. 1) A study at Carnegie Mellon (1998) showed that depression and loneliness increased as online activity increased.

Add to that the fact that as students are nearing the end of a semester, or beginning or ending their college experience anxiety, stress and depression increase as life changes are happening. On top of that,  goals, grades, workloads, family and relationships may not be where they would like them to be, as time and focus are on learning, and can add to stress levels.


While video chats and other live forms of online communication can help reduce the feelings of isolation, positive face-to-face conversations and interactions with nature significantly improve mood and well-being.

Tips to minimize depression and isolation for students in online courses:

Talk to others

  • Set up instructor-to-student live video meetings, chats or discussions with students. Use free tools, such as, that work great and allow for screen sharing and multiple people.
  • Require partner or team interaction. Have students schedule live chats in the course, or have them send you the link to the recording of their team meeting, or ‘stop in’ on their group video meeting to discuss their project progress


  • Encourage students to engage in face-to-face interactions outside of the online course – where team  members are geographically located in close proximity
  • Assign discussion board posts where students need to get out in the world and post.  Interview a person, take a picture in nature or in public and post how it applies to class content in the course discussion.

Self Care

  • Suggest your students exercise and get out into nature as a stress buster. As stress builds in the class with project due dates, along with date reminders they may also need reminding of getting adequate sleep and eating right. We all need those reminders periodically!

Written by Kelley E.B. Senkowski, M.Ed.,
Online Design Consultant, Ferris State University



Howell, D. (2001). Elements of effective e-learning: Three design methods to minimize side effects of online courses. College Teaching, 49(3), 87-90.
DOI: 10.1080/87567550109595855 To link to this article:

Zhan, Z., & Mei, H. (2013). Academic self-concept and social presence in face-to-face and online learning: Perceptions and effects on students’ learning achievement and satisfaction across environments. Computers & Education, 69, 131-138.

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