Technostress in university students

Universities worldwide are continually increasing investment in the use of technology-enhanced learning (TEL) to transform conventional education. Moreover, the current context created by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted universities to change the way they provide instruction to students.  Technology-enhanced learning refers to any form of learning that is facilitated by technology and comes in several forms, such as mobile learning or massive online open courses (MOOC).

TEL presents some benefits to students, such as flexibility, convenience, and widened access to quality learning resources. Nevertheless, TEL could also cause technostress for university students, which can take the form of burnout, decreased learning engagement, reduced performance and intentions to quit TEL. Technostress can be defined as a maladaptation problem resulting from individuals’ failure in coping with technology and changing requirements related to the use of technology. Technostress is a psychological reaction to the misfit between individuals and the environment.

The Person-Environment (P-E) fit theory is useful to understand technostress among university students. The theory argues that technostress does not arise from the person nor the environment alone. Person-Environment fit happens when personal factors (for example, needs, skills, and abilities) are compatible with environmental factors (supplies, demands, and values). Person-Environment misfit generates stress and decreases individuals’ wellbeing and performance.

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University students face multiple dimensions of TEL-related higher education environments. On the one hand, they need to adapt to changed learning practices, pedagogy, and requirements of TEL. On the other hand, they also need to cope with universities’ requirements of TEL, such as evaluation of TEL and requirements of assignments and grades.

Xinghua Wang, Seng Chee Tan and Lu Li investigated technostress among university students in TEL through a multidimensional P-E misfit perspective: technostress on the dimensions of person-organization (P–O) misfit, person-TEL (P-TEL) misfit, and person-people (P–P) misfit. Moreover, this study also examines how the multiple dimensions of P-E misfit of technostress affect university students’ perceptions of TEL.

Seven hundred forty participants of this study were recruited from two public universities in China. The participants came from different disciplines, including psychology, educational science, material sciences, computer science, and electronic engineering.

The findings of the study indicate that P–O misfit of technostress played a fundamental role as it strongly predicted P-TEL misfit of technostress and P–P misfit of technostress.

The three dimensions of technostress (P-O, P-TEL and P-P) were positively associated with university students’ burnout, which negatively affected students’ perceived performance in TEL. Again, among the three dimensions of technostress, P–O misfit of technostress had the most influence on students’ burnout. However, students were more persistent with TEL. This result can be explained by the fact that students do not have many choices when it comes to TEL being the only option offered by universities. Hence, they can not quit and are drawn to pursue their education.

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Also, female students were more susceptible to burnout associated with P–P misfit of technostress and their performance might be more negatively affected by burnout than male students. This result can be explained by the fact that female students tend to care more about social interactions and relationships with others in TEL than male students. As a result, they are more susceptible to consequences caused by technostress due to lack of social support and interactions in TEL.

The comparison based on grade levels shows that lower-grade students tended to suffer from burnout related to P–P misfit of technostress more than higher-grade students. This result could be due to adjustment to a new environment among first-year students. First-year students who are alienated from their peers in TEL are more likely to end up suffering from technostress and subsequently experience burnout than their seniors.

This study highlighted the impact of TEL on university students. The implications are crucial in the current context as more and more universities are turning to online learning.

To cite: Wang, X., Tan, S. C. and Li, L. (2020). Technostress in university students’ technology-enhanced learning: An investigation from multidimensional person-environment misfit. Computers in Human Behavior, 105.