Is online Learning Causing Listen Fatigue for Hearing Impaired Students
Online Learning Cochlear Implant

Is Online Learning Causing Listening Fatigue for Hearing Impaired Students?

By Eric Sherman

Do you find your child is exhausted after a day of online learning, taking their cochlear implants or hearing aids off? If so, your child may be experiencing listening fatigue.

Recently, we found our son struggling with virtual school. He was exhibiting behaviors that we hadn’t seen in a long time, including not wanting to wear his cochlear implant processors.

In the past, I had wrote a couple of articles that addressed equipment issues that may be the reason why child may refuse to wear their processors (Why My Child Would Not Wear Their Cochlear Implants, and Overstimulation May Be Why Your Child Won’t Wear Cochlear Implant Processors), so we thought it was time to visit the audiologist for an equipment check and a new map.

We shared with the audiologist how our son seemed exhausted after a few hours of sitting in online classes, he was easily getting agitated when working on the computer, and was increasingly removing his CI processors.

What we learned was online learning can cause listening fatigue, especially with hearing impaired children as they struggle to understand speech through the computer.

Listening fatigue occurs after prolonged exposure to an auditory stimulus. Symptoms can include tiredness, discomfort, pain, inattentiveness, mood changes, and decrease in stamina.  Our brains are designed to receive auditory input, how we receive and process that input can cause fatigue.

Think of your brain like your cell phone. When flying at 30,000 feet and not in “airplane mode” it will continuously look for a signal and by the time you land your battery is dead.  Similarly, when you have too many apps opened at once and processing in the background, your battery depletes faster.


Your brain works in a similar fashion.  Everyday listening frequently occurs in the context of acoustic challenges that degrade the auditory signal (Mattys et al. 2012).  According to Jonathan Peelie, Listening Effort: How the Cognitive Consequences of Acoustic Challenge Are Reflected in Brain and Behavior, (Ear Hear, 2018 Mar; 39(2): 204-214.) listening to degraded speech is a challenging task that requires the listeners to devote additional cognitive resources for successful understanding of what is being heard.

Sound through audio equipment or a computer for online learning can degrade speech even more so for students who are already hearing impaired.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that children with hearing loss are at higher risk of cognitive fatigue (Bess et al. 1998: Hicks & Tharpe 2002; Gustafson et al. 2013; Hornsby et al. 2013; Rentmeester et al. 2013).  Online learning is only exasperating the issue.  According to a Washington Post Article, Failing grades spike in Virginia’s largest school system as online learning gap emerges nationwide, 11/24/2020 evidence of poor achievement in virtual classrooms is beginning to emerge nationwide, more so with at risk students and student with disabilities.  

What can be done to mitigate listening fatigue? Parents should look into how material is being presented during virtual classes. Less lectures and more visual, interactive tools can be helpful for children with hearing loss. If teachers are using videos, ask them to provide transcripts depending on your child’s ability to absorb the information. If transcripts are not applicable, ask teachers to breakdown the video into a visual presentation that delivers the information. For math, see if the teacher can color code the steps needed for solving an equation. It all depends on how the child learns.

As parents it is not your job to break down curriculum for your child. Have a serious discussion with your child’s teachers about the difficulty for children to hear speech through a computer and other technology devices. If your child has an IEP, this is definitely the time to be discussing these issues.

Listening is a taxing job for your brain, especially for people with a hearing impairment. “Recent evidence suggests that properly fitted hearing aids in both adults and children can make a difference by reducing listening effort and cognitive fatigue (Hornsby, 2013; Rentmeester et al. 2013).” Distance learning seems to have created a new hurdle to overcome for students with hearing loss and it will take a collaborative effort to figure out how best to reduce listen fatigue through the online learning process until our children are back in school.