Approaching Online Learning in a Mindful Way
Are you a mindful or “mind-full” learner?
Posted March 5, 2020
With the fast-paced, dynamic environment we’re exposed to every day, it’s easy to get caught up in the inevitability of life on “speed mode.” These real or self-imposed pressures infiltrate our daily existence and become a constant tug-of-war between multitasking, efficiency, and effectiveness. The age-old dilemma of attempting to cut corners while still trying to achieve the desired result is hard to ignore. Moreover, instant gratification is now the expected norm and patience is increasingly becoming an elusive virtue.
In the world of sports, there is an ongoing debate as to whether sprinting or long-distance training is the best option. Both will improve cardiovascular health and bone density but reflect different mindsets, objectives, and levels of endurance. From the outside, sprinters appear to be physically stronger and more muscular. In contrast, long-distance runners tend to be leaner but have more mitochondria (powerhouse cells) that use oxygen and produce energy (Tang, n.d).
When it comes to education, this analogy appears to mirror the different paths to degree completion in terms of time investment, learning styles, and student expectations of the value of educational pursuits. Obtaining an advanced degree is tantamount to running a marathon in many respects. Students need to learn to pace themselves in order to maintain productivity and perspective over the long haul.
Once a student has decided to pursue his or her degree, one nagging question remains: Should reaching the “finish line” in less time take precedence over the longstanding benefits of academic achievement and overall well-being?
Online Learning: Speed vs Stamina
The online learning platform continues to flourish and become increasingly popular in higher education (Nguyen, 2015; Bawa, 2016). Online learning offers many advantages to students that are not as readily available through traditional educational settings. The accessibility and flexibility of the virtual classroom and the convenience of learning at their own pace are important to students with busy lifestyles. The option of accelerated, short courses in many online degree programs is also highly attractive to students.
Nonetheless, does this expeditious model detract from the quality of the educational experience and override learning goals? Students often perceive online courses to be less rigorous than classes in brick-and-mortar learning environments—but this is generally not an accurate assumption. The course content, degree requirements, and competencies are consistent in most forms of higher education. The online learning format has become mandatory in most institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it's imperative for students to adjust their mindset and make wise choices during this time of transition.
But some disadvantages remain. With the absence of face-to-face interactions, online learning necessitates a great deal of self-discipline to sustain focus, active engagement, and participation. Research demonstrates that dropout rates are higher in distance education programs than traditional programs (Radovan, 2019). This suggests that students with less intrinsic motivation may not thrive as well in the virtual education platform. Radovan (2019) concludes that participation in distance education usually requires more self-motivation as compared to the level required in face-to-face education.
The Road to Success
Being a “long-distance runner” in any context requires perseverance and diligence but has substantial benefits in the end. Just like running in a marathon, completing an online degree is arduous and daunting at times. The overall feeling of accomplishment, however, is that much more satisfying at the conclusion. Going the distance is an acquired skill that takes discipline, hard work, and determination but ultimately builds strength and resilience.
A more mindful learning experience enables us to immerse ourselves in the immediate task at hand and enjoy the ride along the way. It’s a conscious choice whether to be mindful or “mind-full” as you navigate through this exciting intellectual journey. Keeping your eye on the prize. Meeting challenges with persistence and fortitude will be its own priceless reward at the glorious finish line!
Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions – A literature review. SAGE Open, 6(1). Retrieved from doi.org/10.1177/2158244015621777
Krysztof, K. & Zielinski, J. (2015). Sprinters versus long-distance runners: How to grow old healthy. Exercise and Sport Science Reviews, 43(1), 57-64. doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000033
Nguyen, T. (2015). The effectiveness of online learning: Beyond no significant difference and future horizons. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11(2). Retrieved from
Radovan, M. (2019). Should I stay or should I go? Revisiting student retention models in distance education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 20(3), 29-40. Retrieved from
Tang, K. (n.d). The physical difference between long distance runners and sprinters. The Houston Chronicle, Retrieved from