Studying is hard during the crisis
No structure, no motivation
Why would you get up early to attend a 9 a.m. online class when you can just watch it back later? Now that many students are out of work, sports are cancelled, and classes are being recorded, structure has disappeared from daily life.
The result? Students lack motivation to study or do other things.
‘All this freedom people have is new’, says sport and performance psychologist Nico van Yperen. ‘We’re free to do what we want, whenever we want.’ We watch television on demand and working from home means we get to plan our own day. ‘The advantage is that we can do what suits us best.’
Structure and control
But not everyone benefits from that freedom; many people actually need structure and control. Van Yperen: ‘Some people need more structure in order to be productive than others.’ This is determined in part by genetics, but also through learned behaviour.
The degree to which people are able to deal with the situation and continue to perform depends on how well they can structure their day. ‘The students who are currently asking for help from their student adviser probably aren’t very good at it’, says Van Yperen.
Why is it so hard to motivate yourself and keep working if you don’t have any structure to your life?
Educational psychologist Alexander Minnaert explains that motivation mainly stems from emotion. ‘People who enjoy their work are motivated. But if you’re worried about whether or not you’ll pass your exam, you can easily get demotivated.’
The emotions that motivate you are determined by structure. ‘Structure impacts how you experience things. It provides security’, says Minnaert. It makes you feel like you’re in control of the situation, which positively impacts your ability to perform. ‘The pandemic has led to a loss of structure, which leads to agitation and uncertainty.’
Under normal circumstances, people have goals to work towards, but now, they barely even know what’s going to happen next month. ‘People can’t set goals the way they used to’, says Minnaert. ‘They don’t know what’s going to happen and they can’t challenge themselves.’
As if that wasn’t enough, students are also being given more responsibility. It used to be the university’s job to make sure exam halls were a suitable environment to sit exams, but now students have to take their exams at home.
‘We don’t want to make students to all the work, but that’s the reality of the situation’, says Minnaert. The self-managing skills of students are being taxed to the extreme. But not everyone has those skills, which means some students are performing better than others.
Van Yperen says the university should help students who are struggling in this regard. The departments should facilitate studying as much as possible. People will need extra guidance, and they’ll need it on an individual level. ‘Every situation is different’, he says. ‘When I counsel athletes, I have to determine what works for each of them.’
Minnaert argues there should be a better balance between people planning their own day and structure. One tip is to find a fellow student to spar with, or to form study groups, online if necessary. ‘Talking to others adds a social aspect to studying, and you can motivate each other’, says Minnaert.
He also advises students to utilise all the help your department can give you. Try to watch your classes live; it’s the only time you have any actual contact with the university. Plus, the structure of live classes will help you stay motivated.
‘And don’t let the fact that the current situation is making things difficult get you down’, says Van Yperen. ‘When an athlete loses a competition, they don’t give up. They go back to training to improve.’
Instead, do something constructive and try to figure out how you can grow. ‘These are not good times. But we must strive to find out how we can come out the other end as better people.’