In this presentation, Dr. Chip Dye and Karen Vieth discuss the impact of being on video all the time, what the research says about Zoom Fatigue, how trainers can minimize Zoom fatigue, and how to incorporate video into your virtual learning environment with purpose.
Listen to and watch the 23 minute interview, or read the transcript below.
Modern Learning On the Air Transcript
Editor's Note: A follow up conversation confirms that the research and guidance suggested by Dr. Dye regarding video in the virtual classroom applies to the hybrid training environment as well. He emphasizes that we need to be even more strategic in the use of video in a hybrid learning scenario, as not all learners will have the same capability or experience, depending on where and how they are learning. We want all learners to have an equal opportunity to be engaged.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
KAREN: Welcome to Modern Learning on the Air - The InSync Training Podcast, in conversation with some of the top leaders and thinkers in the modern learning virtual space.
In this podcast series, we will learn about the latest virtual classroom techniques, creative training initiatives, and virtual training best practices that will really engage and empower your teams, colleagues, and learners.
Hello everyone, my name is Karen Vieth. I’m the Director of Services here at InSync Training. Welcome to Modern Learning on the Air. Today I am joined by Dr. Charles Dye, our Head Researcher and Technical Director here at InSync. What a gift. Our topic today is Zoom fatigue; where it comes from and how to address it in virtual training. Welcome Chip. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and then let’s go ahead and jump into that phenomenon of Zoom fatigue.
Virtual Training, Zoom Fatigue, and Video
CHIP: Hi Karen, hi everyone. I’m Chip Dye. As Karen said, I’m the Lead Researcher here and my background is in Educational Psychology and Statistical Method. Part of my research efforts here at InSync are directed at development of best practices as we have evolved fairly rapidly from an in the office workforce to a hybrid workforce or a fully virtual workforce, and what those effects are instructionally in the virtual classroom.
Many of you may have heard of the phenomenon called Zoom fatigue. You may have seen some articles about it, and not surprisingly, about a year and a half ago the research community kind of took it onboard and started pursuing the phenomenon and what is causing it. I’m pleased to say that we are well along the way in collecting some data of identifying the construct and why it happens and that’s part of what we’re going to talk about today. I think the thing that we need to talk about is that virtual training and Zoom fatigue is closely related to video.
Where does Zoom Fatigue Come From?
KAREN: For those who have experienced Zoom fatigue, Chip, it can take a lot of different forms - but fundamentally it comes down to a sense of being overwhelmed by the consistent and repeated interaction in a virtual video call, right? It’s not surprising in the emergence of this pandemic that we’ve been in for over two years that many people who are inexperienced in interacting in a virtual platform suddenly find themselves at a loss on how to deal with that kind of experience. So, Chip, where does Zoom fatigue come from?
CHIP: That’s a great question, Karen, and I think to provide an answer, I want to talk about what the construct is and talk about its roots and its appearance in the virtual classroom. But to talk about Zoom fatigue, we have to recognize first that every individual may experience it differently. The early research in that born that out, but I think there is some common elements associated with it and what it feels like.
It is real, people feel it while they are in the virtual session and we need to talk about how it comes about. To do that, I want to set up a couple of operational definitions.
The first is the learning environment - many of you may say, “well of course, I know what the learning environment is, it’s a classroom.” I am going to take what I’ll call a situated cognitive approach and adopt that framework in this discussion. The learning environment is more expansive than the virtual classroom platform you may be familiar with. It is everything that is not inside the learner. That includes the other participants in the session; the facilitator, the producer, certainly the virtual classroom and tools, the learning content and peer reactions to it, the video, the sound, and what I like to call the meta-environment. The meta-environment is the room in which your learner is situated when they are participating in a virtual session. Is the room loud? Is it too quiet? Too hot? Too cold? Are they in an airport? All of those things go into the learning environment and are part of, and directly relevant to our discussion about Zoom fatigue.
The second operational definition I want to talk about is brain science. Many of you, again, may have heard that phrase or term used before. It was coined in the early 90s by a husband-and-wife research team and it includes a variety of instructional domains and research domains. The most notable of which are neuroscience and cognitive psychology, but also includes things like sociology, organizational behavior, communication theory. Cognitive psychology, for its part, is the science about how people learn. And we model it, we develop latent constructs and identify them. Neuroscience is about the physiological processes when we perceive and act and learn. And I’m sure many of the listeners here have had the opportunity to read some of those things. The recent publications are fascinating on what parts of our brain fire when we are in a learning experience.
What Does The Research Tell Us About Zoom Fatigue?
KAREN: Thank you, Chip, for outlining those operational definitions. I really think that helps to lay that foundation as we talk about where Zoom fatigue does come from. A lot of people have different opinions about Zoom fatigue, where it comes from, how it happens, but can you talk to us about what the research really says and what your thoughts are?
CHIP: Sure, to explain where Zoom fatigue comes from, I’ll focus on the four lanes of research that are really coming out with results.
- The first is neuroscience. Jeremy Bailenson and his team out in Stanford have proposed a framework to develop instrumentation or surveys and measurement instrumentation around Zoom fatigue. They posit that Zoom fatigue results from a lot of unconscious processing of all the different things within a Zoom session. As an example, if video is on, I’m reading people’s non-verbal cues, I’m trying to actually look at the slide and read it and understand it. I am also trying to listen to a facilitator who is talking about it. And there might be a dog barking or something burning on the stove in the meta-environment. All of those things drive Zoom fatigue from a neurological perspective. At least that is where their research is headed.
- Cognitive psychology on the other hand, builds on that and says, well, there is a bunch of environmental elements, but there are also some cognitive and effective fatigue elements introduced by interacting in the Zoom environment that may not be as present in a face-to-face meeting. There is a lot of social peer analysis being done. And the idea there is that when someone was speaking in a room and I wasn’t the speaker, I could focus on that person and listen. But now, I may not even see their face or if I do see their face, all I see is their talking head and as a consequence, I can’t really assign any value or try to address it cognitively because I really don’t know who’s who in the environment, and that becomes even more notable when there isn’t a clear and decidedly effective role model or expert as a facilitator.
- The communication theory - folks say that Zoom fatigue is coming from a lot of different communication sources within the virtual classroom; chat of course, and audio being the two principals, but also video and that kind of thing. What is it telling me? How do I read it? There may be poorly understood goals within the virtual session, and consequently, they feel adrift and that leads to Zoom fatigue, particularly session after session after session.
- Most recently, a study came out of Harvard in the Fall of 2021 that frames the analysis around social representation theory. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a sociological study about how people appear and how they seem on video and how they may feel very self-conscious about that - and as a consequence, that whole terror, or at least concern, makes them less effective as a learner, and if you do that hour after hour after hour, of course it builds up.
KAREN: From the depth of the research to what Harvard just came out with - and I think about even myself, just as a trainer and when you are in front of the camera, how it can affect you. Are there any other possible sources of Zoom fatigue based on this current research?
CHIP: Absolutely. I think at the end of the day, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. [C. Dye turns on video camera] What we do know is that when I show up on video like I just did, your attention may be directed at me in the video window, and not at the instructional content that I want you to be paying attention to. And it is that flip/flop that is causing the problem. The best design approach I can suggest here is that every learner may experience Zoom fatigue a little bit differently, but there are things we can probably do to address them. I would also suggest that there may be some other issues that need to be addressed, with the instantiation of virtual classroom in your training approach, but the best I can suggest as an entering argument is, assume your learner is Zoom fatigued coming into your session
KAREN: That is so interesting, Chip - because we are in video meetings all the time, the use of virtual platforms can really be exhausting and yet companies are using them so much - constantly asking individuals to be on video. Are there other considerations or best practices that we should think about when it comes to video?
Considerations for Using Live Video in Virtual Training
CHIP: The best way to think about this is, let’s parse the phrase Zoom fatigue. Dr. Bailenson gets it right there, by the way. He talks about it in his article submitted to Psychology Today, that there is really an issue around fatigue, and he was looking at it from a neurological perspective, but I would suggest that Zoom fatigue is also a simple matter of workload. Before the pandemic, it was almost kind of common parlance to say, “well this meeting could have been replaced by an email.” The unfortunate reality is that everyone went virtual all at once, people started calling meetings and the actual labor overhead of causing a meeting to happen became two clicks of a button. As a consequence, we have made it very easy for people to schedule meetings, really just to have a five-minute discussion and make a rathe trivial decision, rather than just moving on with workflow and dealing with it perhaps in a different way. What it means is that your potential learning audience is probably attending far more virtual calls than they did in-person meetings before the pandemic. You, as a learning development professional don’t have any effect on that, but you can keep that in mind both in your personal practice, and when you think about when you want to schedule your training for your audience.
The other is that one of the best practices we have developed here at InSync around scheduling - we have been a virtual company for 20 years - as a rule, we tend to schedule meetings five minutes after the hour or the bottom half of the hour and we schedule meetings to end five minutes before the top of the hour or the half hour. The reason we do that, is it gives people time to shift themselves and their focus from what they are doing in that particular session, to the next thing. They can take a bio break, they could do other things, but it is important that they have that time cognitively to kind of let things settle, maybe reflect on that, and then move on to the next thing.
The last thing I would like to talk about is to revisit the concept of meta-environment. What we have found is for those that can dedicate a space for virtual sessions, it is more effective to do so. Also, voice over IP headsets as distinguished from speakers in a loud ambient environment would be much more effective. Some people won’t have that option, and that’s okay - you just need to give them the best tools to help them succeed. At the end of the day, a noise-isolating VoIP headset may cost you less than $20.00, and if you think about the amount of money you’re spending on putting that training online, that’s a scant investment to dramatically increase its effectiveness.
The other thing I would say is, you need to be honest with potential learners about things when they choose to attend training by mobile phone from disparate locations like an airport. Yes, just because you can do it doesn’t mean perhaps you should. And the other part of that is, it is a known fact that some of the interaction tools that are available to you in front of a personal computer are not available to you on a mobile instantiation of a virtual platform. They will have a less rich experience. And that’s okay, if they’re on their way to their flight, you can’t change that, but you need to be up front that if they choose to do that, they will probably end up with a less than optimal experience.
What Can Trainers Do About Zoom Fatigue In The Moment?
KAREN: It seems like Zoom fatigue is sort of where we are - and it’s really up to us as the leaders in the industry, the facilitators, the producers, to be able to help learners out of Zoom fatigue. By some of the things that you have just mentioned, we can help learners get out of Zoom fatigue just by even simply scheduling that extra five minutes before and five minutes after a virtual meeting. Are there any other specific things that we as trainers can do about Zoom fatigue?
CHIP: Absolutely. When you think about Zoom fatigue and its relationship to video, particularly with respect to the neurological stuff and the cognitive stuff and the social representation theory, if you choose to use video, you need to think about what you are going to accomplish with it when you choose to use it. If you can’t articulate a good reason to have a video up of the instructor or of the entire instructor and learning audience, then chances are, you probably shouldn’t. If you have a strong and fast need to use video conferencing technology as part of the virtual classroom experience, then design the experience and take advantage of it. Build things like roleplays and interactions and staged events that will make use of tasking the learner to look at that video. So, if someone is being tasked to perhaps negotiate in video, then I want to be able to look at those non-verbal cues and try to process them. That is part of the learning. But if it is just because someone is more comfortable to see their learning audience, that’s probably not a good reason. I hear very often about participants or instructors that might prefer to have video active. And my response to that is, for any one person it’s not about them, it’s about the audience. And what we know statistically, is that a vast majority of people exposed to hours and hours and hours of video interaction become Zoom fatigued. So, it’s a question of utility.
The other thing I would say is, that if you are focused on the video camera, then chances are you are not, again, focusing on the material. You need to pay attention to the slide and not at what’s the piece of art behind me in the video.
Be Purposeful About Your Use Of Video
KAREN: So, it is really not a rant against video because we don’t like it, we don’t want to turn it on. Instead, what I hear you saying is, be purposeful. Design with a purpose of video in mind and think about when it should be used. If you can give us some more guidelines for when that might be, that might be very useful to our audience.
CHIP: I think it would be useful to share this, and I would invite the listeners to think about their own training solutions and how they might be framed around this same question.
About a year and a half ago, I was asked to consult with a large company that was struggling with taking part of its salesforce virtual as a process and looking at productivity. At the time, they were designing a face-to-face interaction for people that quite literally would be spending their time in video conferencing as part of the systematic approach to sales.
I let everyone talk their piece then I asked, “well, why do you want them to be face to face for part of this?” We had some anecdotal evidence presented by the facilitators along the lines of “Well, I have to be able to read them and that kind of thing.” I said, “Yeah, but the video camera is what their client is going to see, so wouldn’t you be better equipped to assess their efficacy in a video conference by looking at their video picture and giving them feedback about that?” The discussion moved along and I didn’t want to be too directive, but I really wanted to focus on what I’ll call instructional fidelity.
Video is appropriate to be used when we want dynamic interaction in a video setting and that is a focus of the instructional experience. Things like a negotiation roleplay, drawing from that anecdote I shared with you. The skills that the learner needs to develop are going to be directly relevant to the use of video in the session. So, it makes sense to use video. Or if I’m alternatively leading a discussion around how you might lead a virtual meeting or manage a virtual team. You should probably be doing that with video on and have a discussion around how to deal with all the things you might interact with in a virtual meeting, like disruptive behavior or technology failures or managing the agenda. In these cases, and in similar ones, the video plays a role, a profoundly important role, in developing skill in the learner of how to proceed, what’s important in a video conference because it is authentic to the task.
I want to talk about the research that is currently underway in video conferencing and Zoom fatigue. The good news is, the data collection is strongly underway. What we have found, and what I have presented here, is only part of the story. As things evolve, Karen, perhaps we can have another discussion about it, but I want to thank you for taking the time to talk about this. Zoom fatigue and the efficacy of video as an instructional tool in the virtual classroom is something that we think is really important here at InSync.
KAREN: We sure do. Thank you, Chip, so much for taking the time to join us, to give us your insight. You know, the insight that you provided us around Zoom fatigue and the use of video in the virtual classroom is profound. It really does come down to use it with purpose. We’ve said this over and over here at InSync in our classes, and sometimes we are met with a little bit of angst. But you have provided the research that really allows us to understand where it is coming from and why, not to just choose not to use video, but to choose to use it with purpose. So, thank you so much, Chip, for coming and sharing your insight with us. For the listeners, thank you for coming out and listening. For any of you who want to learn a little bit more about the virtual classroom, best practices and InSync, please reach out to us at www.insynctraining.com. Thanks for coming to InSync Training’s Modern Learning on the Air podcast and if you’d like to join us, join us again next month for another rendition of our podcast. Again, welcome and thank you for visiting. If you’d like more information, go ahead and type in www.insynctraining.com for all things virtual.