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Three Ways to Prevent Faculty Burnout While Teaching Online

  • 4 Min Read

With rising student interest in online learning, it’s important to keep faculty just as keen to teach online.


The shift to online learning has impacted higher ed institutions around the globe. Everybody—from students to faculty and administrators—has an opinion about learning online.

Many students in the U.S. look forward to having more hybrid learning options in the future. In the “Digital Learning Pulse” survey by Cengage, 73% of students agreed they were interested in taking courses fully online.

On the other hand, the pressure of building courses that can be taught both in person and online has left some faculty feeling burned out.

Burnout can be caused by chronic stress in the workplace, leading to exhaustion, depleting instructors’ enjoyment of the work being done and producing fewer results.

With that in mind, it’s important to provide faculty with the right support when they’re learning to teach and build courses in an online space.

Here are three ways to prevent burnout among faculty in higher education when teaching online.

1. Learn to Embrace Failure

Everybody makes mistakes. The same goes for instructors teaching online—both those new to the experience and those who are seasoned pros.

Sean Michael Morris is the director of the Digital Pedagogy Lab and a senior instructor of learning design and technology at the University of Colorado in Denver. As someone embedded in the online learning space, they share one tip—embrace failure.

The digital space is always changing. From the introduction of new technology to system updates, it’s impossible for instructors to be perfect all the time. The faster instructors come to terms with the fact that mistakes will be made, the sooner they’ll protect their flames for teaching from burning out.

Just as instructors will make mistakes, so will students. It’s important to let students know that this is expected, accepted and promoted. While exploring the large ecosystem of the internet, encourage students to experiment with new tools and work out any kinks they come across in order to broaden their understanding.

Happy and confident students make instructors who enjoy logging on to their digital classrooms and look forward to instructing.

2. Upskill Faculty Who Work Online

Focusing on improving digital literacy skills for instructors teaching online is one way to help them feel supported and reduce the risk of burnout.

Susanna Kohonen, a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland, shares tips on how colleges can focus on upskilling their online teaching faculty:

  • Build a peer support system—Find instructors who are passionate about online teaching to share their interest with peers, especially those new to the digital space.
  • Create new resources—Ask faculty where they feel they need support for online teaching or course design, and develop resources specific to these areas.
  • Make time for professional development—If you want your faculty to succeed, be sure to make time dedicated to professional development and peer support.

Instead of making the move to blended learning feel like a decision handed down to faculty, show them that they are part of the process. Encourage faculty to share their experiences and incorporate them into future plans.

3. Encourage a Community of Inquiry

Dara Cassidy, head of online education at The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s University of Medicine and Health Sciences, shares their opinion on the differences between in-person and online learning.

Instructors and students know how to act and what to expect when learning in person: Professors lecture at the front of the hall; students take notes and sometimes ask questions. Tutorials are a more intimate space used for more open and critical conversations.

But when teaching and learning become digital, these common activities are no longer as relevant.

The Community of Inquiry, developed in 2001 by Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walter Archer, describes three core concepts that lend themselves to successful online learning:

  • Social presence: the ability for instructors and students to be able to be authentic and real in a digital landscape by using videos and photos and injecting personality into communications. Social presence has been shown to motivate students learning online and build relationships.
  • Teaching presence: the instructional design aspects made by the instructor, such as content, assignments, feedback and course delivery. It can be fostered through providing guidance and encouraging and commenting on discussions that lead to students feeling supported.
  • Cognitive presence: how engaged students are with their online studies. This can be encouraged through social and teaching presence by designing courses that engage students and providing feedback for further learning.

The Community of Inquiry is a way for instructors to consider what they already do in a face-to-face learning environment and how these activities can be continued online. Repurposing existing teaching strategies instead of starting from scratch when teaching online can help prevent faculty burnout.

Online Learning Can Present Positive Change

While traditional in-person learning will still be a staple of higher education, online courses are here to stay. To help prevent burnout among faculty in higher ed, it’s important to provide the right support in the transition to a new way of teaching.

By properly supporting faculty, learning to teach online can be seen as a new opportunity, a positive change that can help instructors grow in new ways and connect with students on a different level.

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Table of Contents

  1. 1. Learn to Embrace Failure
  2. 2. Upskill Faculty Who Work Online
  3. 3. Encourage a Community of Inquiry
  4. Online Learning Can Present Positive Change


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