Stockholm Syndrome in ‘forced’ online learning during COVID-19 | The hate and love story of HEIs

COVID-19 pandemic forced teaching and learning to go online in a big way. Teachers and students both embarked upon a journey into several unchartered territories of online world. It all started with difficulties and subtle sense of negation. Then started the phase of explorations, experimentations and adaptation. Finally, as it got extended further, there started a third phase wherein both teachers and students admitted their love for online teaching and learning. This empirical story of exploration through the three phases of negation, adaptation and falling in love with the online teaching and learning reveals perfect demonstration of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’.

Image by : Jackson Joyce / for NBC News

The last two years (2019-21) have witnessed a seismic shift in the institutions of higher learning as the pandemic thrusted upon the ‘online learning’ on them. Since then, it has been a story of hate and love with technology-driven teaching-learning in higher education, almost akin to what is known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. The Stockholm Syndrome has its base in the psychological response of hostages towards their captors which undergoes phases of hate, followed by reconciliation and finally sympathy or love towards the captor. The psychological intimacy of hostage with the captor starts building over a period of time when the hostage lives with the captor for a considerable time. Here the time plays an important role which ensues feeling and the need for reconciliation. Once a certain degree of comfort grows through reconciliation, the hostage starts understanding the inner world of the captor and develops sympathy for the ‘agony’ or ‘circumstances’ which may have led the captor to act insanely. It looks like that something similar, if not exactly the same, has happened in higher educational space when due to the emergency created by the pandemic, colleges have been ‘forced’ (a kind of hostage situation) to go online. The option left for the colleges was to either closedown or to go fully online. Whether liked it or not, online was a better option for survival and continuity. Everyone jumped on it, irrespective of whether enough capacity could be built in a short span of time. This created panic from all sides—institutions, faculty, and students. However, over time institutions worked on capacity building, invested in digital technology, and trained faculty and students for a better outcome.

As time passed, both faculty and students started understanding the new system of teaching and learning better. They also started discovering new ways of teaching and learning. This also created several wow-moments of discovering never seen before advantage of online teaching-learning. Now when colleges are opening up and the joy of being in the classroom physically returning back, many faculty and students are not shying away from accepting the benefits of online learning and expressed that some of it should still continue. We conducted a survey of faculty and students and explored through the ‘new-found love’ for online teaching and learning and came up with 4 distinct features which are likely to stay in 2021-22 and beyond.

The new found love for online learning

Schools, colleges, and universities teach that ‘change is the only constant’, but, alas, they have not changed themselves in the last 200 years or so. The last change in the school and college education system was with the industrial revolution when public schools and colleges came into existence. Since then, in general, the education world kept its eyes closed and let the digital revolution pass by unnoticed. Chalk and talk method of teaching and learning in a classroom which resembles a factory’s floor like seating arrangement remained unchanged like a Gordian’s knot. Even the highly advanced streams like management and engineering largely follow these conventions of education. Online education and MOOC courses came into vogue but for coaching classes and supplementary learning only. The mainstream education world shunned online education as a poor distant cousin. But for COVID-19, the subsequent lockdowns, and physical distancing norms, the world would have let the education system follow its older ways. The pandemic and lockdowns created a change-or-perish situation for the education world. Overnight, most academic institutes shifted to online platforms.

In the post-COVID world, every form of education, schools, colleges, vocational courses, hobby classes, corporate training, fitness coaching, etc. shifted to online mode overnight. Various computer software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, and Google Meet have been explored and used by educational institutes of all levels to continue the teaching-learning process while maintaining the safety and security of the teachers as well as students. Teachers and students adopted this new normal of online teaching and learning with initial teething troubles. Both teachers and students adapted their teaching and learning styles for this new mode of teaching-learning.

How students responded

It has been a saga of hate and love for students, sometimes a forced love. Given an opportunity, students would like to be in the college campus, in the classroom, in the canteen, and with friends. Nevertheless, such a deep love for campus and college classrooms normally is not a reality for all, maybe for some. A longer online engagement strengthened their love for physical and also allowed them time to discover the best and new practices of learning online. 

Astha Jain, a student of masters in management said:

“There are several advantages. Some of them are: easy to access, focused one-to-one interaction, flexibility of time, flexibility of location, and more importantly, our learning to use of technology increased several-fold.”

In a very interesting observation, Amit Jain, a PGDM student said:

“It is indeed very comfortable; you can take shower while listening to professors. Moreover, in online learning, we all are seated in the first row. It is a new experience and a pleasant one.”

However, Kumar Rajat was of the opinion that it was not a choice for him and it was disheartening to be online. To quote Kumar Rajat:

“Online education is not our choice it’s our helplessness. I am very disheartened for not being able to meet classmates and missing the college canteen. But the best thing is that our faculty shifted in online mode very efficiently.”

How faculty responded

The faculty group responded largely on the brighter side of online learning and how students approached learning and challenges faced by them. It has been a journey of new exploration for faculty wherein they found it frustrating to start with and then started learning the art of handling online technology and then started the era of experimentations. There has been amazing changes not only in the teaching style but it has also been the story of new experimentations in pedagogy. Faculty acknowledged that their technological dexterity has improved immensely, rather it has never happened before. However, the training in online handling and pedagogy helped them a lot. One of the best practices reported was that all teaching faculty would meet at the end of the day and share experiences—focusing on what has worked and what did not work. This enabled everyone to act better in every next session. Improving session-by-session helped faculty adapting fast to online learning.

In a very interesting observation, Dr Akash Dubey, faculty teaching information technology narrated:

“Since I am teaching excel, I purposely commit mistakes while teaching them, just to listen them saying, ‘No sir, you are making a mistake’. This gives me confidence that they are attentive and learning.”

Dr Anvay Bhargava, faculty teaching human resource management explained that he has been quite happy as he could use following in his teaching:

“I have experienced the following good things that have worked very well in my classes:”   

  • Use of YouTube video for the session as pre-read.
  • Use of Google forms for quizzes on the flipped videos
  • Use of breakout rooms for discussions
  • Use of white board for drawing figures, flowcharts and text, as if it is in the class.
  • Use of reactions from the students for understanding/ chatbox for questions.
  • Facility to review everything at a later time.

Prof. Samar Sarabhai, a faculty teaching marketing to management students summarized it quite aptly. To quote his words:

“We, as teachers have reinvented ourselves, to resonate with new generation’s learning needs, thus, we also are finding newer ways of expressing ourselves.” 

4 distinct features likely to stay on

The survey of faculty and students reveal at least four distinct features which are liked by them the most and also likely to stay in years to come. 

  • End of backbenchers’ concept

After about six months of online teaching, most of the teachers and students have developed a strong liking for online teaching. In our survey, most of the teachers reported that online classrooms have created a very smooth and democratic communication channel among students and teachers. The concept of backbenchers has disappeared from the online classroom. Now, when classes are conducted on various online platforms, every single student is sitting on the ‘hot seat’, so to speak. The teacher can have a one-to-one conversation with each student in the classroom. The so-called ‘white noise’ and ‘distractions’ of a physical classroom have been removed by shifting the class to an online platform. The teachers no longer have to shout to keep the class quiet. They can cut short the cross-talk with the click of one button. The students can also interact with the teachers on a one-to-one level, without the fear of being mocked by their classmates. Public and private chat options provided by almost all online teaching platforms added another option for instant communication. The students can also give instant feedback about their experiences in the class by using the chat options. In general, the teachers and the students feel that online teaching platforms have brought them closer in comparison to physical classrooms.

  • Pedagogical maneuverability

The teaching-learning process has been further enriched by all the technological features provided by online platforms. Show of hands and pop-up surveys have been a common teaching tool of offline classrooms and the online platforms provide an enhanced version of them by including instant poll features. During the online class, the teachers can create instant polls with as many as 10 options and the students can answer instantly. This feature has been liked by the students as well as teachers as the results then lead to very healthy discussions within the class. Similarly, online platforms provide a facility to add external polls, questionnaires, quizzes, word-clouds, video-quizzes, etc. which makes online learning and teaching quite interesting and engaging.

Instant screen sharing option is another major advantage of online teaching. Earlier, in computer labs, the instructor or the teacher had to go to every student to solve the queries and doubts of the students, however, with the screen sharing option in an online class, the student can share their screen with the entire class and show what problem they are facing in doing anything in a specific software. The teachers also use the screen share option to share videos, webpages, reading material, blogs, images, instantly and the classroom discussion becomes a TV News like discussion, rich with graphics and data.

  • Breaking the shackles of geographical boundary

Borrowing from TV News discussions, one feature which several teachers are using in online classrooms is inviting guest speakers (industry experts, alumni, fellow teachers, etc.) in their classroom discussions. In the pre-COVID world, it required a lot of planning and scheduling to invite a speaker in the classroom discussions. The speaker also has to disrupt their whole schedule to speak to students. Now with online teaching, a person sitting in far off places can connect with the students and participate in the classroom discussions from the comfort of their home or office. The learning experience of the student has been enriched tremendously and the online classroom becomes more realistic and holistic than the offline classroom.

Not only in the case of the guest speakers but also in the case of regular teachers and students, the online classroom has broken the shackles of time and place from the teaching-learning process. The students and the teachers, in general, can take and attend the class from anywhere and at any time. Further, if the students fail to attend the live online class, they can see the recording of the session at their ease. Flip videos are also used by teachers extensively to create a 24*7 learning environment in the online teaching model. Teachers have made short videos on the course contents and share them with the students through instant chat groups. The students then come with the questions and queries in the online class and the class starts with a discussion and doubt-clearing segment instead of pure lecturing by the teacher.

  • Technological dexterity

The cherry on the cake in the online teaching classroom is that a high number of students reported that their self-discipline has increased after attending online classes. The students realize that since the teacher’s watchful eyes are not on them all the time, and they have to take responsibility for their learning. This self-disciplined of the student has led to increased participation of the students in the class as well. The students also reported increased technological dexterity. After attending and participating in online classes and discussions, the students feel confident in communicating their ideas through online medium. Overall, the students feel that online education adds something extra to their knowledge and skills instead of depriving them of something.

Nobody knows what lies ahead but for now, teachers and students find online teaching as a boon instead of a bane. An improved communication, participation of guest speakers, the flexibility of learning in terms of time and place, and the opportunity to become an expert in various technologies are some advantages of online learning which attract students and teachers towards the online platforms. It looks like that many of these features will continue to attract the teachers and students, even in the face of physical classes in 2021-22 and beyond.

This feature is jointly prepared by Dr Prabhat Pankaj and Dr Daneshwar Sharma (Associate Professor, Business Communication, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur). It also draws from the article earlier published by the authors in Times of India, Rajasthan edition.

Author: Dr Prabhat Pankaj

Dr. Prabhat Pankaj is a postgraduate in Economics and a Ph.D. in applied economics. He is a teacher by choice and started his career 30 years ago in 1991 from Arunachal University. He has been teaching Economics at postgraduate and undergraduate levels for about 30 years, in Universities and B-Schools in India and abroad, including 7 years in Bhutan. Dr. Pankaj has also obtained his Executive Education in "Management and Leadership in Higher Education" at Harvard University, Boston, USA. Furthermore, He has written for the Times of India and other popular publications. Currently, he is serving as the Director of Jaipuria Institute of Management, Jaipur.

17 thoughts

  1. Great article Sir.

    Just that online classes require a lot of self- discipline on part of the students to truly benefit from online sessions. Besides, as we know learning doesn’t happen only in the classroom. Peer learning takes place in the canteen, it takes place on the field or while just walking down the corridor to the class. This is what is probably being missed.
    But yes, I also feel that some amount of online education should continue even after F2F classes begin, especially the opportunity to get faculty and practitioners from across the globe in our classes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Compliments Dr. Pankaj & Dr. Sharma for highlighting the positives of online learning in HEIs.

    One wonders however if it all qualifies for the Stockholm Syndrome hubris; and you have rightly observed that “it looks like that something similar, if not exactly the same.” In fact, the ‘repercussions’ on mental and physical health’ (n=158) is the highest detractor in you survey covering 1109 respondents.

    Online learning has undoubtedly broken the geographical barriers to bring teacher/expert-student/ learner on a common virtual platform/place without (old) spatial hassles; and hence it is indeed a feature likely to stay on; and it should stay on. Yet, one wonders if online teaching has removed or reduced number of backbenchers. When 20 to 30% students video is blank at anytime in a virtual class, a conscientious teacher often wonders if they ( students behind blank screens) are around, or in the last bench of the class or emotionally disconnected! As a corollary, the case for enhanced ‘self discipline’ amongst students also needs some more robust empirical data.

    Similarly, the case for ”pedagogical maneuverability” might appear as an overstated case unless it is visibly (data supported) demonstrated.

    In all, the study deserves a big round of appreciation, acknowledgement and applause for scrutinizing this new genie (online teaching) of knowledge-skill-attitude transference called online teaching or capability building.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great insight Sir .. compliments to you for such a profound review. Your observations are very apt and intriguing and no wonder if it also opens door for several further investigations .. our gratitude for your time and review.


  3. Dr. Prabhat, Compliments for this scrutiny. Viren P Singh

    On Sun, Oct 31, 2021 at 9:57 PM The Learning Corridor wrote:

    > Dr Prabhat Pankaj posted: ” COVID-19 pandemic forced teaching and learning > to go online in a big way. Teachers and students both embarked upon a > journey into several unchartered territories of online world. It all > started with difficulties and shuttle sense of negation. Then starte” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great reflections and insights on teaching learning. As you have pointed out, the onus of learning has to be learner centric and not teacher centric. The online learning platforms have just facilitated these and it is going to be future way of facilitating learning. Besides, the universe is going to the campus in the real sense so one is not bounded by the barriers of physical locations. Great prospects to make teaching learning more efficient and effective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Just as we have embraced technology for all other purposes in life, COVID 19 and the pandemic has forced upon us to embrace technology and put it to better use. Technology has entered the Schools and the classrooms in a big way. It has now become the standard tool in the way we learn and teach and educate our children.

    I thank the authors for this wonderful piece.

    Bhutan was no exception as the country went into two lockdowns and schools shut for months together. The way forward was embracing technology. Online teaching and learning became the key ensuring children were not left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Compliments for fine article-on lessons from pandemic time e-Learning!
    It’s juxtaposition with Stockholm Syndrome makes understanding quite easy and clearer.
    Initially, we hated e-Learning and now we are all blush with our newfound love.
    Good data on 1) Student and faculty voices and 2) what is next.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Real-time data is always effective and first-hand experience always a boon to teaching-learning, especially the challenges and the changes that had to be accommodated by the academia with the hit of the pandemic. Very well-paced writing with assimilation of ideas and data.

    Thank you, Prof. Pankaj for citing my inputs in this blog. It was a pleasure to read and my gratitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. one value adding feature for me as a result of the forced transition to online teaching was that it forced me to think of more ways of engaging students….as a result some of the options i was not aware of like live polls…..kahoot etc have now become an integral part of my offline classes as well…..i would also like to explore the possibility of using the Stockholm Syndrome in the context of marketing specifically CB

    Liked by 1 person

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