Psychology faculty, alumni author paper on effects of remote learning and social connectedness

A young woman studying over a video call at a kitchen table
The paper on remote learning was recently published in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

Jennifer Stiegler-Balfour, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and assistant academic director of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences within UNE’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the lead author of a newly published article on the effects of social connectedness in the era of remote learning.

The article, “Does the Talking Head Matter? The Mediating Effect of Social Connectedness and Cognitive Load on Remote Learning during a Global Pandemic,” was recently published in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, the primary journal of the American Psychological Association Division 2. The journal’s mission is to leverage psychological science to provide resources that integrate research, theory, and practice to benefit both educators and their students.

Together with alumni co-authors Nicole Martin, B.A. ’21 (Psychology) and Aubrey Sahouria, B.S. ’22 (Neuroscience), Stiegler-Balfour examined whether the inclusion of a talking head within a narrated lecture recorded via Zoom would lead to greater perceived social connectedness and influence cognitive overwhelm and learning outcomes.

The study asked participants to watch a pre-recorded lecture that either included or excluded the instructor’s face and to complete a recognition quiz following the lecture. A participant questionnaire was also used to measure multiple cognitive and psychological measures — such as COVID-19 worry and grief, social presence, cognitive load, and mind wandering — and a demographic survey (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity).

The study’s results showed that including, or not including, a talking head in a recording did not directly predict performance on the recognition quiz. However, perceived cognitive overwhelm was a significant predictor of recognition quiz performance. Additionally, Stiegler-Balfour said, the results showed that feeling socially connected reduced feelings of cognitive overwhelm, thereby improving performance on the recognition quiz.

These findings highlight the importance of creating remote learning environments that keep cognitive distractions low while generating greater social connections to enhance learning outcomes.  

Martin is currently pursuing a master’s degree in organizational psychology at William James College in Newton, Massachusetts, and is working as a benefit specialist at Unum in Portland. Sahouria is currently employed as a quantitative research assistant with the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Stiegler-Balfour, Ph.D.

Nicole Martin, B.A. ’21

Aubrey Sahouria, B.S. ’22