Internet Explorer doesn’t work well with our website. We recommend using a different browser like Google Chrome.

We'll discuss the biggest challenges of online learning and possible solutions to these problems to create a more impactful experience for students.

We live in a world where anything and everything you could ever want to know is ~ literally ~ at your fingertips. Thanks to the internet and the rapid growth of technology, online learning has never been more popular and effective. 

While there are some great perks associated with online learning, such as accessibility, flexibility, and affordability, that’s not to say that online learning doesn’t come with its downsides… online learning can be challenging to get accustomed to at first, and there are some obstacles that come with the territory. 

In this blog we will go into depth on the different problems encountered in online learning, and provide valuable solutions for the problems faced by students in online classes. 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 face challenges with online learning. 

Continue reading or jump ahead: 

Check out: Thinkific Online Learning Trends 2024

What is online learning?

Before we dive into all of the problems faced by students in online classes, let’s go over exactly what online learning consists of, and break down the different types of online learning out there. 

Online learning – also commonly referred to as eLearning – has rapidly grown in popularity over the past few years, and eLearning is essentially any kind of learning you can do from your own device and an internet connection. The best part is that you can be anywhere in the world while learning online. 

Online learning has earned its seat in the education industry as it provides more accessibility and flexibility for students, allowing them to choose a learning style that works best for them. It can also be more cost efficient for both students and teachers, cutting back on the overhead expenses that are associated with in-person learning. 

Think of online learning as an umbrella term for all of the different types of eLearning out there. There are multiple ways in which you can learn or teach online, and there is no one right way to approach online education. 

Below we have listed some of the most common forms of online learning that are currently being offered. 

Types of online learning 

First off, there are two ways in which you can consume information online: asynchronous or synchronous learning. 

Asynchronous online learning involves a self-paced learning environment where learners can access the course material and complete assignments at any time and from any place in the world. This is a major appeal for most people when it comes to online learning. 

On the other hand, synchronous online learning is an interactive and live teaching style that mimics in-person instruction, and uses real-time participation and active discussions to facilitate learning goals, regardless of location. This is very similar to learning in-person, however with the added convenience of not having to leave your bed if you don’t wish to!  

Here are some other common forms of online learning: 

  • Microlearning – Short-form lessons that mainly involve bite-sized, digestible content. The goal of microlearning is to focus on learning core concepts and theories, while consuming this information within 5 and 10 minutes for better understanding. This style of eLearning weeds out the fluff and unnecessary details, so that students can grasp key points more efficiently.   
  • Mobile learning (M Learning) – The use of mobile technology like smartphones to facilitate  educational purposes. With M Learning,  students are able to learn on-the-go through videos, podcasts, and bite-sized lessons. Students are more likely to take up M Learning as it is flexible and convenient, and it’s easy to form a habit or routine this way. 
  • Gamification – Involves the use of game elements in the learning process. Examples of this include point systems, leaderboards, and rewards to incentivize learning. This style boots student engagement and creates an immersive environment where learning doesn’t have to feel like a chore. 

Related: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Learning in Online Classes in 2023

Top challenges with online learning 

Now that we’ve covered our basis and explored the various types of online learning, let’s go deeper into some of the challenges faced with these specific modalities of eLearning. 

While distance education and short-form learning techniques have lowered costs, increased flexibility, and reduced the need for physical infrastructure for both students and teachers, it does not come without its downsides. Listed below are some common challenges with online learning. 

  1. Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning is great for student participation, however there are some key challenges that are worth noting. This particular online learning style closely mimics in-person lectures, so for those who learn best in-person, this is your next best option as there is an emphasis on live lectures and student participation. 

However, synchronous courses don’t always have the flexibility that is often desired when it comes to online learning. In fact, it can be tough for those in different timezones to engage with this type of eLearning. It can also be difficult for some students to find a quiet and private environment to be fully engaged with lectures. As well, if there are any internet troubles, then you are potentially missing out on valuable class time, especially if lectures aren’t recorded.  

  1. Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous classes can be very similar to synchronous learning, just without the live “in-person” component. While there are deadlines and due dates to meet, students have more flexibility with how and when they learn, and can allocate their time in a way that works with their schedule. 

The top problem with asynchronous learning is the lack of personal interactions and peer-to-peer support. Another big challenge is that it can be tough to receive immediate instructor feedback or help – there will most likely be a delay before an instructor can respond to a query, which negatively impacts the learning experience. Asynchronous courses are also known for having a lack of structure, which can make learning confusing and unmotivating for students.

  1. Microlearning

Microlearning caters to those looking to quickly grasp the concept of a subject, and is generally for learners with limited time. Due to this time constraint, it is challenging to learn complex problems or skill development with microlearning. This limits microlearning to only a few concepts, or more of a surface-level learning experience. 

Microlearning also runs a high risk of fragmented learning if the course is not managed correctly, which can be frustrating for learners. Because of this, it can sometimes be a struggle to keep track of student success and progress with microlearning. 

  1. Mobile learning (M Learning)

Worldwide, there are approximately 6.94 billion smartphones – which means that M Learning is only increasing in popularity. The ability to learn from your smartphone is a huge breakthrough in the online learning industry, however there are some noteworthy challenges with this learning style. 

A major challenge is content compatibility. Most times, content created for eLearning doesn’t always smoothly transfer over to mobile devices, affecting both the student and instructor. In this case, content has to be refurbished or recreated so mobile learners can access it properly, which can be very time-consuming.  

Other challenges include small screens, difficulty reading text, and learner retention. M Learning typically produces ultra-short-form content, also making it difficult to learn in-depth concepts. 

  1. Gamification 

Gamification learning uses play for educational goals, and many smartphone apps have mastered the art of game-based learning. While this is a fantastic short-form learning technique that is rapidly growing, some challenges include it being seen as “mandatory fun,” difficulty boosting user engagement, and misaligned motivation to earn rewards instead of retaining core concepts. 

Gamification can also be prone to technological issues such as accessibility, usability, and reliability – which can easily deter potential learners. 

Related: Top Advantages and Disadvantages of Mobile Learning

Problems faced by students in online classes

Now that we’ve gone over some of the problems encountered in online learning, let’s switch gears to the more specific problems faced by students in online classes. 

Noting these challenges will be beneficial for both students and teachers, which is why we will also provide some key solutions to overcome these challenges with online learning. 

Listed below are some of the most common challenges (and solutions) with online learning that students face: 

  1. Isolation

Humans, by nature, are social animals. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome with online learning is isolation – it can be incredibly lonely to enroll in an online course, and students can often feel disconnected from their peers and instructors. Although students sometimes get to interact with their classmates over Zoom or Google Meet, it is not the same as physical interaction.  

Feeling isolated can lead to students feeling disconnected from class, and they may not engage the way they normally would in an in-person setting. This is especially prevalent with asynchronous learning, where there is even less of a chance to interact with other students.


It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t talk to your teachers and classmates face-to-face and voice the concerns you have immediately. However, there are things you can do to power through, including: 

  • Find out if your course has a student support system in place. Some online courses have advisors who guide and support students throughout the duration of their online program.
  • Check if your course offers networking opportunities for students. Some courses allow students to interact with their peers via chats and forums. It’s similar to interacting with classmates in a physical class, except it requires a little more effort to reach out. 
  • Interact with your teachers and classmates during your online classes as much as possible. You can do this through social media outlets like Facebook groups and WhatsApp, email chat rooms, and classroom forums. To facilitate more interactions, be sure to ask lots of questions, organize group projects, and participate in discussions with your peers.

Combating isolation with online learning will take some effort on the students’ behalf, however once you’ve laid the foundation of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to communicate with others, the rest will be easy! 

Online instructors, you can also help students overcome feelings of isolation by creating group projects and encouraging classmate interactions. As well, try to make yourself available at certain hours for students who want to reach you.

  1. Lack of motivation

Feeling isolated also trickles into our next big problem that online students face, which is a lack of motivation to participate. Lack of motivation is a common issue amongst students. It requires a significant amount of self-discipline to learn online, and this is often a skill that needs to be consistently worked on. 

Due to a 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 to attend classes on time, meet deadlines, and make progress. This could lead to procrastination and declining grades. 

Staring at a screen for hours on end – even outside of online classes – can also deter learners from attending classes and completing their coursework in a timely manner. Learning online is not always as exciting as in-person lessons, so it can take a while to adjust. 


Here are some ways that students can increase their motivation to learn online and succeed academically: 

  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals to help stay on track with classes, assignments, and projects. To-do lists are great reminders for meeting deadlines, and crossing activities off a to-do list can be highly motivating.
  • Reach out to a classmate (this also helps combating isolation) and hold each other accountable for attending online lectures, completing coursework, and finishing assignments and projects. 
  • Practicing positive affirmations will help increase your motivation and drive to succeed with online learning. Giving yourself short pep-talk to affirm that you can do whatever you set your mind to will help keep you on track during tough times. 
  • Regularly participating in class can provide a sense of belonging that keeps you motivated to continue learning. Ask questions, share your opinions, and engage in healthy debate. 

Teachers can also incorporate gamification in their online courses to motivate their students to attend and participate during online classes.

  1. Time management 

It’s hard enough to juggle your normal day-to-day activities without being a student. Adding online learning into the mix can make it even more of a challenge to navigate all these responsibilities. 

While online learning provides students with unparalleled flexibility to do other activities, the tradeoff is being able to manage your time in a responsible and effective manner. It can be extremely easy to fall into the habit of letting things slip, and before you know it you’ll be struggling to keep up with your online course. 

Time management is an important skill that helps students stay focused and disciplined – keeping your priorities in line will help you not only with online courses, but in all aspects of your life. 


Here are some ways to manage your time better for online classes: 

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. This will help build discipline and keep yourself accountable. Make sure to include lots of mini breaks so that you don’t exhaust yourself!
  • Create a priorities list, and work from most to least important. With time, this habit will increase your overall productivity.
  • Set early deadlines so that you’re not scrambling to stay on top of your assignments. 
  • Break tasks into smaller chunks instead of trying to complete them all at once. Trust us, your brain will thank you!

Teachers can also try to make it a priority to check-in on students, especially with asynchronous learning. 

  1. Distractions 

We all know how easy it is to become distracted, nevermind learning online at home with ALL the distractions that you could ever imagine present! It takes some serious dedication and commitment to work successfully from the comfort of your own space. 

Along with in-person distractions, such as your TV, bed, making food, or roommates, there are also online distractions to be wary of. As wonderful as the internet is for learning purposes, it also comes with constant notifications from blogs, videos, and social media platforms. This can easily distract students from their classes and assignments, and it’s dangerous territory for falling into that rabbithole of mindless scrolling. 


If you’re getting distracted by your surroundings or procrastinating with social media, here are some things you can do to focus: 

  • Dedicate a quiet area of your home that is free of distractions. This will help focus your mindset on the task at hand, which are your online classes. 
  • Turn on social media blockers during classes and when you are working on assignments.
  • Tell people around you about your daily schedule. You become more accountable when you tell others about your commitments and plans. Think of these people like human alarm clocks. 
  • Leave your phone (and any other distractions) in a different room while you complete your coursework. You will feel less compelled to procrastinate, leaving you with a more efficient study sesh. 

If you are an instructor, you can help combat any learning distractions by using a 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.

  1. Technical issues 

Technical issues are the culprit of disengagement for online learning. Learning online requires teachers and students to understand how to use multiple forms of technology – some of which have steep learning curves.

From low internet bandwidth, spotty reception, and video glitches (to name a few), these issues disrupt the flow of learning and make it a tedious task.

With online learning, students need to find proactive ways to become their own IT department, as technological assistance may not always be available right away. 


To reduce technical issues that students and teachers experience during online classes, here’s some preventative measures to 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. 
  • As an online student, search engines are your best friend! More often than not, you can find the answer to your tech problem by plugging your question into Google. 

Teachers should provide a comprehensive guide that contains IT information and digital literacy guidelines to streamline the process for students if something goes wrong. It’s also very helpful for teachers to record class sessions in case some students miss lectures due to tech issues.

  1. Communication

It can be more challenging for students to communicate with their peers and instructor in an online environment. Learning online doesn’t come with the option to walk up to the teacher after class (unless your instructor allows questions in synchronous classes), so students can feel more alone if they are confused. 

Even when a student asks a question online, they might not receive a response right away depending on the availability and timezone of their instructor. 


  • Most of the time, the answers will be in the student syllabus. Make sure you carefully go over the course outline, as you may have missed the answer you are looking for. 
  • Post your questions in student groups. Chances are, one of your peers will be able to help you out, especially if they’ve already asked the same question or have taken the course before. 
  • Take advantage of online office hours if the teacher provides them. Then you know an exact time for when your instructor can provide assistance. 

As a teacher, you will want to be proactive when planning your course. Be sure to provide you students with an in-depth outline of the course that covers common questions and solutions. This will help in the long run, so you don’t have a herd of students banging on your virtual door looking for answers!

  1. Personal barriers 

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. 


Online learning is praised for its adaptability and inclusivity, which means that if you inquire about accommodations, the course creator or institution could most likely work with you to improve usability. 

As an instructor, here are some ways you can make your online course more universally accessible to all learners, including those with learning disabilities: 

  • Include captions to your audio and video content 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.
  • Hold extra office hours for those who need extra assistance.
  • Offer assignment extensions.

Related: The Most Common Barriers to Learning – And How to Overcome Them

Overview of top solutions to overcome online learning challenges

Since we’ve covered A LOT of information in this post on how to overcome challenges with online learning, here is a summary of the most important takeaways: 

  • Practice self-discipline by creating an online learning schedule 
  • Connect with classmates to motivate each other 
  • Increase motivation by practicing good online study habits 
  • Take study breaks to avoid burnout and lower screen-time levels 
  • Dedicate a quiet study space with no distractions
  • Be proactive when looking for answers – but don’t be shy when asking questions
  • Set early deadlines to stay on top of assignments 
  • Become familiar with online support systems in place 

There you have it! A complete overview of the top challenges with online learning, and how to effectively manage these obstacles.

We hope you are able to implement these solutions into your online learning journey, and embrace online education with confidence. 

If you’re an online creator looking to break into the lucrative industry of online teaching, try Thinkific today. 

This blog was originally published in August 2022, it’s since been updated in April 2024 to become even more useful.