The COVID-19 pandemic put the world at a standstill. But not many things were transformed as much as the education system as the virus spread. Students’ education was abruptly interrupted and schools scrambled to find alternative ways to help students continue their education.
And there was one glaring solution: Online learning.
Schools started investing in EdTech, and students started taking classes and assignments via Zoom, Google Meet, or some other video conferencing platform.
While distance learning has lowered costs, increased flexibility, and reduced the need for physical infrastructure for both students and teachers, it does not come without its downsides.
According to Statista, 38% of parents said that one of the major challenges of remote learning is that their children lack the motivation to pay attention and engage during classes. In another study done by Pew Research, 65% of students preferred in-person classes to remote or hybrid learning options.
These statistics show that online learning has some disadvantages that teachers and students alike need to know about, and try to solve.
In this piece, we’ll discuss the biggest challenges of online learning and possible solutions to these problems. This way, if you’re a teacher, you’ll know how to support students who are struggling. And if you’re a student, you’ll know what to do when you get into a difficult e-learning-related problem.
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- Biggest Problems with Online Learning for Students
Below are the seven biggest challenges of online learning for students (and teachers), and how to solve them.
Humans, by nature, are social animals. Most people like to interact with and get to know others, especially in social settings. And although students get to interact with their classmates over Zoom or Google Meet, it is not the same as physical interaction.
Online learning affords students the ability to study, work, and pursue other interests all at the same time. But the absence of their coursemates and teachers in the immediate environment can cause students to feel isolated. They start to feel disconnected from the class and might not engage the way they normally would in a physical setting.
So it’s no surprise when students turn off their webcams and doze off during online classes. Not only does this foster indiscipline, it also causes students’ academic performance to suffer as teachers cannot personally attend to each student’s needs.
It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t talk to your teachers and classmates face to face and voice concerns immediately. However, there are things you can do to power through. Here are some of them:
- Find out if your school has a student support system in place. Some online schools have advisors and academic staff that guide and support students throughout the duration of their online classes.
- Check if your school offers a networking opportunity for students. Some schools allow students to interact with their peers via chats and forums. It’s similar to interacting with classmates in a physical class, except students have to use online communication etiquette.
- Interact with your teachers and classmates during lectures as much as possible. Ask questions at the right time, organize team projects, and have group discussions with your peers.
For professors, try to make yourself available at certain hours for students who want to reach you. Be dedicated to your students and try to help them achieve their academic and life goals.
Most students start online classes pumped and ready to go, but as the courses progress, they find that they’re no longer motivated to even attend classes.
Due to the lack of face-to-face interaction, some students find it hard to focus during online classes. The physical absence of teachers or classmates takes away the sense of urgency and motivation that students need to attend classes on time, meet deadlines, and make progress. This could lead to procrastination and declining grades.
Contrary to popular opinion, long texts, learning assignments, and quizzes don’t help matters, and can even contribute to students losing motivation to attend classes.
Lack of motivation is a common issue amongst students. Here are some ways students can maintain a work-life balance and succeed academically:
- Set realistic long-term and short-term goals and plans to help them stay on track with classes, assignments, and projects. To-do lists are also important for meeting deadlines. Crossing activities off a to-do list can be highly motivating.
- Students who need direction or help can check out websites and self-help books.
- Practice positive affirmations. Giving yourself short pep talk to affirm that you can do whatever you set your mind to can motivate you, especially during tough times.
- Try to interact with teachers and classmates as much as possible. Log in to class daily to see class discussions and course updates. Ask questions, share your opinions, and engage in healthy debate. Being active in class can provide a sense of belonging that keeps you motivated to continue.
Teachers can also incorporate gamification in their online courses to motivate their students to attend and participate during classes.
To attend online classes and succeed at remote learning, students need a device with a strong internet connection that they can type assignments on, e.g. laptop, desktop computer, and tablet with a keyboard.
These devices don’t come cheap, especially for low-income students.
- Some schools give out devices to students that can’t afford them. So if you can’t afford necessary devices for your online classes, ask your school if they provide laptops or tablets to remote students.
- Use a library. In some regions, public libraries have computers they allow students to use. If you have a library like this in your area, try to use it.
- Borrow from family or friends. If these don’t work out, you could ask relatives or friends who have a laptop to lend you theirs for some time till you’re able to get your own.
Millennials and Gen Zs, as they’re called, are generally proficient in using computers and technology. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t face technical issues from time to time. Learning with computers requires students to understand how to use multiple software–some of which have steep learning curves.
If a student facing technical issues were on a physical campus, they could easily ask for help from the IT department. With online classes, the student has to try to figure things out alone. If they’re lucky, they’ll have someone close by to help them, but chances are, the person won’t be available all the time.
Technical issues are not limited to students, though. Teachers face them too–low internet bandwidth, spotty reception, and video glitches, among other things. These issues disrupt learning flow and make learning tedious.
To reduce the technical issues that students and teachers experience during online classes, here’s some measures they could take:
- Before enrolling in an online class, students should check if they have access to the necessary technology they need to succeed at home. If they don’t, they should check if the school offers technical help (via phone, email, and live chat) to online students.
- When attending online classes, students and teachers should use a high-quality internet service provider (ISP) for fast connection. If they don’t have access to a good ISP at home, they can use free Wi-Fi at a public library or coffee shop nearby.
There, they can attend classes, participate in group discussions, talk with teachers and coursemates, and turn in assignments.
- Teachers should provide a comprehensive guide that contains technical times, digital literacy guidelines, and online attendance regulations.
- Teachers should record class sessions on their computer for students who couldn’t make it to class.
As wonderful as the internet is for learning purposes, it also comes with a ton of distractions.
Constant notifications from blogs, videos, and social media platforms can distract students from their classes and assignments. And once they’re distracted by these notifications, it’s very easy for them to start scrolling through these platforms mindlessly.
This can cause them to forget that they have classes, assignments, quizzes, or exams.
To be productive in online classes, you need to identify things that can distract you and stop you from achieving your objectives. If you are getting distracted by the internet and social media, here are some things you can do to stop it:
- Turn on social media blockers during classes and exams. Or you can turn off your notifications completely. When you’re done studying, you can go back online or do some other fun activity.
- Tell people around you about your daily schedule. This way, if they see you getting distracted by technology, they can remind you to do what you planned to do that day. Think of them like human alarm clocks.
- Find a quiet place to complete your coursework. Even if it’s night, doing your work in a quiet place without your phone (or other unnecessary gadgets) present will help you pay maximum attention to your studies.
To help students pay more attention during classes, here are some things teachers can do:
- Use dynamic learning design to make classes engaging for students. Encouraging your students to build things, take surveys, and have debates can help them concentrate more on their studies, as opposed to the ‘teacher speak, student listen’ learning model.
- Organize tests and quizzes that require students to respond verbally. When students interact physically and mentally during a class, they become less inclined to look through social media and/or blogs.
It’s hard enough to juggle your normal day-to-day activities without being a student. Online learning adds a few more items to a student’s to-do list, and it can be hard to navigate all these responsibilities.
While online learning provides students with unparalleled flexibility to do other activities, they have to be good time managers to do their duties effectively and successfully.
Time management is an important skill that helps students stay focused and disciplined. Students need to learn this skill to effectively manage their academic work and still have time for family, friends, and leisure. Here are few ways students can manage their time better:
- Try to multitask. Doing two (or more) things at once will save time, and ensure that students will attend classes on time and meet deadlines.
- Make daily to-do lists. Not everyone can multitask. For some, doing multiple things at once can be stressful. If you cannot multitask, create a to-do list and assign times to do each task. When you complete a task, cross it off the list. With time, this habit will increase your overall productivity.
Good teachers can also help their students manage their time better by conducting periodic surveys. If you’re a teacher, these surveys will give you actionable insights into how your students spend their time in a day.
If you find anything troubling about a student’s schedule, you can offer them personalized guidance and advice.
Some students may have problems with online classes due to learning difficulties or disabilities. Students with dyslexia, autism, poor vision, hearing impairment, and other disabilities need extra attention to succeed academically. And they can only get that in a physical class.
If you, a teacher, have students with disabilities, check if your online course is universally accessible to all learners. If it isn’t, try to improve usability for everyone. Here are some ways to do that:
- Include captions to your audio and video resources for students with hearing impairments.
- Have voice-over descriptions of text and images.
- Provide alternative learning options like keyboard shortcuts for certain exercises.
- Use AI-powered personal assistants for students with special needs.
- What Is Learning Experience Design? (Tips And Examples)
- How To Design Your Online Course (Visually And Structurally)
Overcome The Challenges of Online Classes
Like most, if not all, things in life, online learning has its upsides and downsides. While it can be overwhelming to juggle attending lectures, working, and interacting with friends, always remember that there are things you can do to make online learning easier for you.
As you ask for help from friends and family, remember to ask your online school for support, too. If you feel stuck, talk to your classmates to see if they’re going through the same thing and how they’re coping.
Also seek help from teachers and student advisors. And if you’re a teacher or advisor, be willing to support your students and create a conducive setting for learning.
If you, a student, ask for help and follow the tips outlined above, you’ll be able to navigate the challenges with online learning, stay on track, and achieve your goals.