Night owls into the spotlight

Seán Holland explores the ways in which flexible learning finally allows those who excel at night their time to shine

Night owls have long had to structure their routine in accordance with the early morning riser. The 9 to 5 world of hyperreal simulacra that is capitalism has been in place since the industrial revolution. Now, with the effects of the pandemic, it has been replaced by the chaos of working and studying from home. With the latest restrictions in Dublin, more and more lectures will be taking place online. This leaves the night owl in their element, rising at a time that suits them and getting their work done without the unwelcome disturbance of a 9am lecture, plus the prior commute looming large. Until now the night owl has been cast aside, instructed to go to bed early, drink milk and eat almonds so that they will easily drift off. There is little social significance or sympathy given to those who suffer from involuntary conditions such as insomnia or delayed sleep phase syndrome. Despite its drawbacks, many night owls embrace their unconventional circadian rhythm, though it pits them against the whims and behests of society. The peace of the late night and early morning as well as a stronger mental capacity as the day wears on is the norm for the 10 percent of people who identify as night owls. 

This does not mean night owls will be totally undisturbed; those studying remotely from home may still be plagued by parents or family members waking the peaceful night owl. Those who are most productive in the evening may well find themselves just beginning to get into their work when siblings are returning from school or parents are coming home from work. This is when one typically relaxes, switches on Netflix or cooks the dinner, amongst other noisy evening activities. Most people living at home do not have the luxury of a library at home or a specific study room. Their study space could be the kitchen table or a desk in their room, which brings about its own set of issues when it comes to differentiating boundaries between study and leisure and of course, sleep. The quiet of the evening only truly begins when those around you are gone to bed. Only then can the efficiency of your work begin as your natural energy soars at this time. 

“While the night owl is only commencing their work in the evening, their friend is likely finishing up, producing a clash in their allotted free time.”

There is also the issue of socialising. Just because there are Covid restrictions does not mean you cannot meet up with a handful of close friends, key to maintaining both some sense of normality in these times and for personal growth and mood. While the night owl is only commencing their work in the evening, their friend is likely finishing up, producing a clash in their allotted free time. This may be a pedantic point, but it is prudent to show how exact timetables or work schedules make it difficult to remain in close contact and in sync with friends. 

Still, the flexibility of online learning can be an enormous boost to those who previously felt caught for time and were forced to prioritise studies over the maintaining of friendships. Students can now rest assured, knowing that the majority of their lectures will be recorded and can therefore be viewed at a time more convenient to them. They can then meet (safely) with their friends knowing they are not missing out on valuable lecture time. If a night owl wants to hang out with their friends or flatmates all afternoon and then watch their lectures and study for the evening, that is a much more feasible option due to online learning. The only drawback may be lecturers who assume that their students are available 24/7 and Zoom or Blackboard lectures with mandatory attendance may become more and more frequent. 

“Lecturers may be encouraged to be more involved in making sure everyone is up to speed and engaged.”

For students with part time jobs, flexible learning allows for them to work their timetable in accordance with their work hours, where previously they would have had to choose between quitting their job or allowing their studies to suffer. In terms of online teaching, lecturers may be encouraged to be more involved in making sure everyone is up to speed and engaged. It is easy for lecturers to simply stand at the top of the room and for want of a better word, lecture for an hour. With the absence of physical students, lecturers who may have slipped into this pattern could find themselves attempting a more engaging and inclusive way of delivering lecturers. Examples of this could be clearer images that are no longer barely visible on whiteboards rows and rows ahead, but instead right in front of you that can be analysed in greater detail. Also, discussion boards where a more student-led, feedback-centric approach can be taken could be a welcome outcome. 

Flexibility with online learning is also a bonus for students who may be intimidated by the intimacy of tutorials or struggle to ask a question in front of a crowded lecture hall. Now students can be in the comfort of their own rooms and therefore more willing and likely to get involved. The lack of crowds could help those with agoraphobia, anxiety or autism. Any inclusivity is a bonus, but still there are limits to online learning. Deaf students or those who are hard of hearing may struggle to lip-read through a screen that is not always as clear or up to speed. And so, it is important to acknowledge that flexible learning is not a perfect solution for all purposes. However, for the night owl, it is at least a method of education that may allow them those extra lie-ins without the guilt, and the option to work long into the small hours of the night, free from the previous impediments to their natural working, socialising and sleeping rhythms.