Online learning has transitioned from an option for working adults to becoming the education of choice for students of all ages and backgrounds. Almost 19.6 million students attended college online in 2019, and the number has grown exponentially since then.
There is a reason for the massive popularity of online education. It offers immense flexibility for students no matter where they are located. They can take courses on their schedule and study when their time permits. They can continue to work or take other courses and get dual degrees if they wish without the need to commute or juggle demanding schedules. They can connect and learn from any device, anywhere, as long as they have a computer and internet connection. There is no need to attend the class in person or relocate to attend a school of their choice. What’s more, they can connect with peers from different backgrounds in an online course setting via forums and chats.
But despite its many advantages, online learning comes with some challenges as well. Let’s take a look at the biggest challenges facing online education today and how to overcome them.
#1: Challenges of online education: Technical difficulties
Technology has changed our lives, and we cannot think of life before the digital era. But it has its drawbacks and technical issues that can arise from time to time. While a student on-campus may reach out readily for help from the campus IT department, online students may not be as lucky. Which means they may need a certain degree of technical proficiency to attend class online.
A student can access the coursework and attend class from anywhere, but they have to make sure that the internet connection is secure and stable. Low bandwidth and spotty reception will spoil the online experience for students even with regular tasks like attending a lecture or submitting an assessment. It will affect how quickly or well a student can connect for a class and the quality of their participation.
Overcoming the challenge
Before enrolling in an online program, students should research two aspects – whether they have access to the relevant technology at home to study and whether the school offers enough support and access to technical help.
A reliable internet connection is important for an online student. Opt for a high-quality home service provider who is known for a fast home internet connection. If a student does not have access to the internet at home, they can find a free Wi-Fi location nearby, like a coffee shop or a library. It is also a good idea to keep a list of other reliable, Wi-Fi-connected places nearby. Most of these places allow students to work there for a considerable time by logging in to classes, attending lectures, participating in class discussions, communicating with teachers and classmates, and submitting work.
It is important to choose a school with a solid student support system and consider all the challenges of online learning. This would also include access to IT help to resolve all technical issues at the earliest. Most of the learning that online schools provide technical support by phone, email, and live chat.
Most schools provide a thorough guide for students in terms of online technical guidance and online attendance rules. There are many safety and security issues related to the online learning environment, and students have to abide by them. Students must follow the basic online communication etiquettes, which means avoiding dangerous sites that may infect the computer and the entire school network due to hacking risks. They should also listen closely to what their instructors tell them about saving, labeling, and submitting files. Lively participation is encouraged, but Interaction with peers needs to be cordial and respectful at all times.
#2: Challenges of online education: Lack of motivation
Learning online and in isolation can be very demotivating after some time, adding to the challenges of online learning for students. Attending classes on time with a physical classroom to go to or completing all assignments on time requires a lot of motivation and discipline. Some students are naturally inclined to handle these issues, but most students require an extra boost to stay ahead of academic deadlines, stay engaged with their courses, and make progress. Not being in the same room with teachers or classmates may not be as exciting as being with friends on campus. Also, it takes away the sense of urgency and gives students a false sense of time, leading to procrastination. Most students start the program fully engaged but then find that they are not as motivated as the courses progress. It is important to recognize the signs on time and deal with them so that students don’t fall behind or their grades suffer.
Overcoming the challenge
Lack of motivation may be a big issue for online learners, but it is common among all students and even professionals. It can be hard to juggle multiple things, maintain a life-work balance and still be on track to complete the online degree program. But there are some easy ways to stay ahead of this issue and overcome it.
One of the first things to do is set some goals to have a structure and plan to stay on course during the program. Goals can differ by individuals and their situations, so there is no need to stress about a particular structure. However, if one is looking for direction, many self-help books and websites offer wonderful advice. Students can set some long-term goals which run simultaneously with the length of the whole program. They should also set some manageable short-term goals, which can be quarterly, monthly, or weekly. These can help them stay on track with tests, assignments, and projects. Most students find that jotting down daily goals or to-do activities is a great method to get things done and meet deadlines. Once each goal is met, crossing off goals as they are achieving is highly motivating.
Another great way to stay motivated is to practice positive affirmations. Students have to tell themselves they can do whatever they set out to do and always have a positive, can-do attitude. It works as a self pep-talk and helps students keep thoughts like pursuing a degree at the top of their minds.
Making sure that they attend all or as many classes as possible is essential. Attending classes, interacting with teachers and peers provides a sense of belonging and keeps students motivated. Seeing live or regular updates will help students keep track of their progress and grades. Maintaining a calendar for activities that include times blocked off for studying, checking in with teachers or advisors, and taking tests will make the whole process more productive. Productivity leads to a feeling of accomplishment which is a highly motivating factor.
#3: Challenges of online education: Feeling of isolation
Online learning has expanded the boundaries of knowledge and opened doors to higher education for millions of students. It was especially important during the pandemic when the world came to a standstill, and all learning shifted to the online platform. Pursuing a college degree online means that students can work and study at the same time. They can also pursue other interests or courses without wasting time or a year later if they are looking for professional qualifications.
Despite these advantages, studying online at home can lead to isolation, which is one of the biggest challenges of online learning for students. It is not the same as being in class physically with classmates and friends. Some people do well with isolation; others think of the advantages of online education and keep themselves focused. But many students struggle with being alone and may just get demotivated during the course of the program.
Overcoming the challenge
Students should thoroughly research the online course delivery of the schools they have shortlisted. Leading online schools have a robust student support system in place with advisors available for students to guide and support them throughout the duration of the program. The professors also make themselves available for students whenever they need them. Each of them has regular office hours when students can reach, but they are all dedicated to their students and ever-ready to help them with any problem and help them achieve their goals.
Online schools also offer a huge networking opportunity for their students. Each student can interact with their cohorts and peers via forums and chats. It is just like interacting with friends in class, except this is online. Another great advantage of online programs is that they connect students with a huge network of alumni worldwide. It is a great networking benefit for the future and a great way to stay connected with people and not feel isolated.
#4: Challenges of online education: Managing time effectively
Time management is a constant challenge for individuals, no matter how young or old they are. Online learning, as discussed above, is a great boon for students, especially for working adults. The kind of convenience and flexibility that online learning offers is unparalleled. But juggling a lot of responsibilities at the same time can be challenging and overwhelming. Unless students learn to manage their time well, they will not be effective or successful in what they do.
Overcoming the challenge
Time management is closely tied to staying disciplined and focused on goals. Busy 24-hour schedules mean that students need to manage their times and tasks, with enough room left for play, fun, and relaxation. Every student needs to do this, but everyone has a different way of tackling and managing time.
For many students, multitasking can help. Doing two things at once will save time and help students stay ahead of their deadlines. But multitasking is not for everyone, and for some, it can be stressful and counter-effective. They are better suited to completing one task at a time and finishing each item off their to-do list. They can break down their goal sheet into a daily to-do list and determine the best times to tackle each task. Once this becomes a habit, students will find it much easier to manage time and be more productive.
#5 Challenges of online education: Managing distractions and staying focused
The joys and convenience of the Internet also come with many distractions that it offers. We deal with information overload every day via various digital media like videos, blogs, and, most of all, social media. Same with smartphones which have made our lives so much easier yet more distracting. The constant notifications from a wide variety of platforms can really pull students away from lessons and assignments. And once a mind is distracted by these notifications, getting sucked into the rabbit hole that is the Internet is inevitable, which ranks high among the challenges of online learning for students.
Overcoming the challenge
It is important to identify all elements that distract the mind and keep one away from accomplishing goals. If a student is constantly distracted by social media or browsing the internet, they need to identify the time-wasters and flag them. This will act as a conscious reminder that these distractions cause more harm than fun and help students stay focused on schoolwork. There are free websites and social media blockers that students can turn on during exams or simply turn off notifications when studying. Once all tasks are completed, they can take a well-deserved break by going back online, watching TV, or simply reading a book.
As we can see, online learning comes with benefits and challenges like everything else in life. While the pressure of juggling study and work can be overwhelming at times, students should never forget that help is at hand. There are, of course, friends and families to rely on, but online schools also offer immense support for all students. Student advisors, teachers, and peers offer a supportive and convenient setting for learning and preparing for the future.
If a student focuses on goals and manages their time wisely, overcoming all the above challenges will not be a problem. They can easily stay on track and accomplish what they have set out to achieve. Interested students should shortlist colleges and then reach out to enrolment advisors to learn more about the programs and how to earn their degrees.