Distance learning enables students to access and engage with quality educational content, all from the comfort and convenience of home. Though COVID-related restrictions will likely begin to relax as the pandemic wanes and vaccination rates rise, it seems unlikely that the e-learning industry, which experienced explosive growth in 2020, will become obsolete in 2021. On the contrary, the virtual education industry had a value of $171 billion in 2019 — that is, prior to the coronavirus pandemic — “and is expected to grow [by] 10.85% by 2025,” according to PR Newswire.
While it’s easy to see both the benefits and relevance of distance education, such as increased flexibility, mobility, and affordability, it’s equally important to acknowledge the potential challenges with distance learning for students. From grade-schoolers to graduate students, e-learners at all age levels must overcome obstacles that are unique to virtual education, such as asynchronous communication and ever-present opportunities for time-wasting distractions. E-learners also face challenges that, while often present in the traditional classroom, can be amplified in a virtual setting, such as delayed or unclear instructor feedback.
As an educator or aspiring teacher, it’s important for you not only to understand and empathize with the challenges of online education for students — but even more critically, to help implement effective solutions. While e-learning may pose certain difficulties for students, it also creates exciting educational opportunities, opening doors for young and adult learners alike. To help your students seize these opportunities, learn about the challenges of online distance learning they face — and what steps you can take as a digital instructor to help your e-learners succeed.
What Are the Challenges of Online Learning for Students?
What are the challenges of distance education for students who attend class online? Here are four virtual learning disadvantages that educators need to be aware of.
Ineffective Time Management
Research has proven that successful “time management is associated with greater academic performance and lower levels of anxiety in students.” Unfortunately, the same research also uncovered that “many students find it hard to find a balance between their studies and their day-to-day lives” — and worse, that ineffective time management was associated with outcomes like “poor sleep patterns” and “increased levels of stress.” Effective time management can be especially difficult in a distance learning environment, where students are challenged to pace themselves — without the support from friends and peers that would help them stay focused in class.
Lack of Instant Communication
In an in-person setting, communication happens instantaneously, making it easy for students to get answers and clarify points of confusion. In an e-learning setting, communication is often asynchronous, which means there’s a gap between teacher and student. It’s easy for misunderstandings to develop in these gaps — sometimes, allowing a problem to snowball before it can be corrected.
Not Receiving Timely Feedback
Providing feedback is one of the most important and meaningful ways that a teacher engages with a student. When feedback is delayed by additional days or weeks because of an online format, students can become confused or uncertain about your expectations, their progress, and their performance in your class.
Not Receiving Clear Instructions or Expectations
It’s always crucial to set clear expectations for students. Otherwise, they can only guess at whether they’re performing tasks and projects correctly. While setting clear standards is a challenge in any classroom, asynchronous communication can make it a greater obstacle.
Now that we’ve explored the challenges of online learning for students, let’s focus on something even more important: how to overcome them.
4 Practical Solutions to Distance Learning Problems for Students
Fortunately, it’s possible for educators to mitigate distance education issues and challenges for students. Here are four steps that teachers can take to help position e-learners for greater success in the virtual classroom.
Share Time Management Apps and Resources for Students
Effective time management is a fundamental skill for distance learners. Encourage your students to take advantage of the numerous time management apps and resources that are available to e-learners — many of them for free. For example, National University offers a comprehensive suite of time management resources for students, including daily planner worksheets, infographics, links to apps, helpful time management tips, and even a time management calculator.
Education experts also recommend periodically surveying your students, which provides you with actionable insights into how your students allocate their time toward various tasks. Once you identify the trouble spots that are slowing your students down, you can offer them tailored guidance — especially if you notice patterns emerging in your survey data.
Utilize Educational Technology (“EdTech”)
Just because communication occurs over the internet doesn’t mean it has to be lagged or asynchronous. In fact, there are countless tools — many of them free to use — to help students and teachers communicate in real-time. For example, you can use video conferencing software to have live conversations with your students, either one-on-one or in group settings. This gives your students a chance to ask you questions, raise concerns, and work through complex course material more successfully. In addition to video conferencing software, you can also use instant messaging apps for students who prefer to communicate via text. Examples include Skype, Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts.
Increase Peer Review
Students need timely, meaningful feedback in order to gauge and improve their performance. There are several ways you can improve the feedback your students receive.
One method is to schedule one-on-one or group sessions with your students — for instance, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis — that are dedicated to providing feedback on recent assignments. Providing verbal feedback lets you save time on writing and editing documents, without sacrificing the detail or quality of your evaluation. As a result, your students receive better feedback, sooner.
Another method is to let your students engage in more peer review, or the process of providing feedback on each other’s work. In one fascinating experiment, a Duke University instructor permitted 100% of grading to be handled by a peer review process, with unsurprising results: increased satisfaction for students, and decreased stress on instructors.
Want to take a deeper dive into this subject? Here are even more tips on providing effective feedback to online students.
Provide Clear Grading Rubrics
Rubrics and syllabi are important tools in the traditional classroom. Make use of them in the virtual classroom, too! Be sure to provide your online students with a clear and detailed overview of the course, including information about:
- What type of material you’ll be covering
- What items each student will need
- How each type of assignment will be graded
- How to share or upload documents
- What to do if they experience technical issues
- Deadlines, exam dates, days off, and other special calendar events
- How to contact you
While there are many distance education issues and challenges for students to overcome, there are also countless opportunities for them to seize — and the approach you take as an educator can make all the difference. We hope that, by sharing some of these solutions and strategies, we’ve made it a little easier for you to help your e-students turn their challenges into success stories.
Become a Teacher and Advance Your Career with a Degree or Certificate in Education from NU
The state of California is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage and needs passionate, talented educators like you to fill the unmet need for qualified instructors. As an online or in-person educator, you’ll empower your learners, inspire young minds, and help shape the world of tomorrow. It all starts here, at National University.
Through the Sanford College of Education, NU offers dozens of NCATE-accredited programs in exciting areas like special education, teacher education, educational counseling, and educational leadership. Whether your goal is to become a teacher in California, earn an advanced degree, or improve your teaching skills so that you can take your career to the next level, you’ll find a program to suit your needs at National University. Whether you prefer to take classes on campus or 100% online, NU gives you the flexibility to learn in the way that works for you. And with credit transfer options, financial aid and scholarships, and a military-friendly student community, reaching your goals has never been more achievable.