Top Challenges of Online Education

Top Challenges Faced By Students Making Decisions about Online Education

Online learning is more popular now than it ever has been, and students who choose to take at least some of their college courses online are growing in number. Government statistics show that in 2014, over 5.7 million college students enrolled in at least one online class, while nearly three million were earning online degrees taking distance courses exclusively.

More than one in four college students now choose to do at least some of their learning online, and they are doing so for several reasons. Some want to earn their traditional degrees or complete online programs faster, while others need the flexibility in their schedules to keep working while learning. Still others find online schools to be great for saving money while still earning a degree.

If you have considered online learning for your college education, in part or in full, it’s important to know that there are some challenges. Some students hit roadblocks that they have to overcome to succeed and earn a degree as online learners. When you go into online education understanding what the potential challenges are, you are better prepared to meet those challenges and to succeed in spite of them, or to make a choice for your education that makes more sense for your needs. Here are some of the top challenges that online students face.


The First Challenge: Choosing Online Colleges and Online Programs


Choosing to go virtual for your college is a potentially a really smart decision. With online degree programs you get greater flexibility in how you use your time, the ability to work and earn a degree, lower tuition, and time and money saved by not having to commute or live on campus. But, to enjoy all those benefits, you first have to choose the right school and program.

Start with a college search tool like, which will help you sort through your options. You can search by career, degree, or the ability to take all your courses online. A tool like this makes your search easier and more manageable. As you pick your online school consider factors like instructors who have experience with online teaching, accreditation of schools and programs, and career services. Also, look into what current and past students have to say about the programs, and find out how many students find jobs after graduating.


Adapting to Online Learning after Traditional School Is Challenging


After finding the best online colleges and choosing from among online programs, students then need to learn to adapt to the virtual learning environment. This can be a tough transition, especially if you have never taken an online course before and you are diving into an online degree program. To go from working with teachers face-to-face to distance learning isn’t easy for everyone. Some students will adapt quickly and take to communicating and learning through email and online chats, others will need time to get used to it.

If you are struggling with the transition, remember that it may take some time to adapt. Be patient and persistent and reach out to your instructors as often as you feel you need to. You may be used to being able to approach your teacher at the end of a class to ask for clarifications, and now you have to find her online. By reaching out often you will be able to get answers to your questions and help when you need it, so that you don’t slide and get more and more behind in the curriculum.


Online Students Need to Find Internal Motivation and Time Management Skills


A huge challenge for many students transitioning to online learning is motivation and managing time well. When you are in a traditional class setting, you have a teacher in the room with you, as well as other students, and you are expected to be there at a certain time. Online, you may not have scheduled sessions. You may have to watch a series of lectures and do readings at your own pace. Without self-motivation you run the risk of ending up with a list of videos and readings that you’ve put off until two weeks before the final exam.

There are a few great ways to overcome this challenge if you struggle with procrastination. You can join a virtual study group, where you have to be accountable to your fellow students. To study, set a strict schedule that you stick with no matter what. Once you get a routine going, you will do it automatically. Set small goals throughout the semester. Working toward each one will get you to the end. It also helps to choose a school that really supports students with great teachers and active student groups. You can search online colleges at Americolleges and use that tool to help you find a school that will meet your motivational needs.


Isolation Can Be Difficult for Online Learners


Many students get into online learning realizing that there will be practical challenges, like time management and procrastination, but not many realize that isolation can also be a big problem for online students. Feeling isolated while learning online can be severe enough to cause some students to drop courses and waste both time and tuition money. It is a serious issue to consider before beginning a program online.

Some people are better suited to learning in an isolated way, but anyone can manage it by taking a few steps to make a course more engaging. Most online classes have some type of online community, like a chat room for discussions. To lessen feelings of isolation, join in or start these discussions regularly. It also helps to reach out to your instructors. As with traditional classes, many online instructors hold regular office hours when you can chat and ask questions. If you are taking online courses through a local college, form a group with students in the area and meet up for study groups and coffee breaks. Take full advantage of the various ways that your program allows you to interact with others and you will feel less isolated.


Technological Challenges of eLearning


For most young people today, technology is not much of an issue, but when all your courses are virtual there are bound to be some technical setbacks. There may be a day when you really need a reading or lecture, but you can’t access it, or your professor can’t get the chat session up and running. These kinds of technical challenges can mess up your schedule and force you to be flexible. Make sure that when you choose an online school, which you can select by using a tool like Americolleges, you look for one that has been in the online game for a while. These schools will have most of the technical bugs worked out and will have fewer setbacks.


The Challenges of Online Graduate Degrees


Statistics show that graduate students are more likely to take all online courses as compared to students in undergraduate programs. A good reason for this may be that many students looking to get a graduate degree are already working. To manage to hold on to a full time position in a great career while also earning a degree is challenging, but being able to take all classes online makes it possible.

A lot of online graduate students face the challenge of finding a balance between life, work, and learning, and just finding enough time to get everything done. These students may have full time jobs as well as families and responsibilities at home. Making time for school work while also having time for family and work is a big challenge that requires excellent time management and an ability to prioritize.

Even for undergraduate online learners with fewer responsibilities, finding a good balance can be a major challenge of online learning. Many of these students have jobs too and have social lives that must be balanced with learning. If you struggle with this, make school a priority and remember that it isn’t forever. You have a goal in mind, and to achieve it you need to finish school and earn your degree.


Whether it’s online graduate degrees, undergraduate degrees, or just a few courses that you are pursuing online, expect to face some challenges along the way. Online learning is a different way of learning, but it can be just as valuable as traditional classroom time. Before you commit to any online programs, make sure you understand what the challenges are and that you are ready to face them. Then, use a search tool, like, to help you find the perfect online school.