The well-being of students should be a component of their education, according to a meta-analysis published in Borders entitled “Active learning trends in higher education and student well-being: a literature review”. According to the meta-analysis, this topic should be included in the curriculum reforms of all countries.
On January 1, 2016, the United Nations resolution called “Transforming our world: Agenda 2030 for sustainable development” entered into force, the purpose of which is to build a just and universal world. The authors highlight goals three and four, which seek to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, respectively.” Due to the pandemic, these goals are far from being achieved as the digital, educational and social divide has widened, exacerbating socioeconomic disparities and even forcing those most affected to drop out of school. That’s why for the authors, the well-being of the students became a priority.
The meta-analysis found limited academic references on how well-being can become a successful element of education, but did find that curriculum adaptations have been made to integrate well-being issues in Australia, England, New Zealand and Scotland. In addition to students having to engage in active learning that forces them to read, write, discuss, solve problems, analyze, synthesize and evaluate, they also have to think about what they are doing, observe their emotions, attitudes and values when they engage in projects outside the classroom for working with the community. This is with the aim that students see “the learning process as a constructive process that brings together people from all over the world.”
Cooperation among all, according to the analysis, is the way to respond to the challenges the world is currently facing such as “environmental conservation, poverty, socially inclusive and just development, smart and sustainable cities, mutual respect and the generation of new knowledge to provide sustainable solutions for social problems”. In addition, it helps new generations to adapt to different circumstances and people, contributing to the integration of society. But what does active learning have to do with well-being?
Active learning and social-emotional well-being
The authors of the meta-analysis reviewed the literature that focused on the use of active learning methodologies in higher education to see if they support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Web of Science, Scopus and in journals that publish exclusively reviews or are important in the field of higher education, resulting in six studies: Akinla et al., 2018; van der Zanden et al. 2018; Kötter et al., 2019; Theelen et al., 2019; Thorburn, 2020; Agassisti and Soncin, 2021.
Among the six publications, they argue that many students are stressed about the transition to higher education, their expectations of college, how their performance will be evaluated, and, more generally, what it means to be successful in college. This last point is broken down into three: student academic success, critical thinking skills, and social-emotional well-being.
To reduce the stress of entering college, Akinla et al. explored how close peer mentors can help them transition, as well as help them grow professionally and personally and maintain well-being. In addition, it is an active source of learning as it promotes social and academic support to the newly admitted university community. This is supported by van der Zanden et al. who describe that participation helped students’ social integration and adjustment rather than their general feelings of adjustment.
The effects of the pandemic on the well-being of the student community
The most recent meta-analysis report, that of Agassisti and Soncin (2021), touches on the issue of the pandemic and how well-being is becoming a key concern for higher education. The authors say institutions have made significant investments in technology to prepare classrooms for distance learning. This presented a myriad of complex challenges, but it showed that “the fundamental goals of the faculty had to be the students, not the method itself.” For Agassisti and Soncin, one of the most important lessons of this era was the emphasis on relationships, as they give “meaning to students’ educational experiences, as well as to the process through which research and innovation develop.”
Among the challenges, the Defeyter study et al. (2021) discussed how several students showed low levels of mental well-being during the pandemic because they did not believe that their universities or government would function well in the situation, which affected their mental well-being, as it conveyed feelings of insecurity and discomfort. To truly achieve the goals of well-being in education, the emphasis must be on teachers, students, institutions, government, and the broader concept of academic achievement. All this to give teachers greater professional autonomy and provide more comprehensive learning experiences for their students.
Promoting students’ mental and emotional well-being improves their self-esteem and their lives by providing emotional balance and coping with feelings of depression or isolation. Institutions of higher education must offer active learning where students have autonomy and the ability to make decisions in collaboration with their community. The authors explain that “learning with these approaches would reduce the feeling of discomfort caused by isolation (or even loneliness) and the ambiguity of the situation, since they are transformed into a contextualized and self-responsible learning process that takes into account the skills and limitations of each individual.
The United Nations 2030 Agenda strives for universal literacy and equal access to quality education at all levels, health and social care, where physical, mental and social well-being is ensured. However, the meta-analysis shows that there is a lack of interest on the part of the scientific community and the institutions themselves. Investing in research on active learning and student well-being is needed, especially in countries that are socially disadvantaged or suffer from a greater digital divide, in order to understand well-being more broadly and how to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda.
In recent years, the importance of focusing on the well-being of students has been noticed, and as the authors say, “everyone believes that well-being should be emphasized as a component of education”.