Online learning was once an option reserved for working adults. Today, an online only environment is the educational format of choice for students of all ages and backgrounds. Almost 19.6 million students attended college online in 2019. The number has grown exponentially since then. An online learning environment is more common than most people think.
There is a reason for the massive popularity of online education amongst college students. Distance education offers immense flexibility for students no matter where they are located. They can take online classes on their schedule and study when their time permits. Thanks to educational technology, undergraduate students and grad students alike can continue to work or take other courses. They can even get dual degrees if they wish. They can do this 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 move to attend a school of their choice. Plus, they can connect with peers from different backgrounds in an online course setting. This interaction occurs via forums and chats, all while attending only online classes.
But despite its many advantages, online learning comes with some technical issues and challenges as well. Let’s take a look at the biggest challenges facing distance education today and review some specific tips for how to overcome them.
#1. Technical Issues
Technology has changed our lives, so much so that we can barely imagine 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. This means they may need a certain degree of technical skill and digital literacy to attend class online.
A student can access the coursework and attend online classes from anywhere. Still, they have to make sure that the internet connection is secure and stable. Low bandwidth, spotty reception, and other technical issues will spoil the online experience for students. It could interrupt 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 online degree programs, college students should research two aspects. These are: whether they have access to the relevant technology at home to study and whether the school offers enough technical support and access to technical help through faculty or academic staff.
A reliable internet connection is important for distance learning. When attending online only classes, 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. They can log in to classes, attend lectures, participate in class discussions, communicate with teachers and classmates, and submit work.
For the optimal online learning experience, it is important to choose a distance learning provider with a solid student support system. This would include access to online resources such as IT help to resolve all technical issues at the earliest. Most of the online schools currently available provide technical support by phone, email, and live chat.
Most online courses provide a thorough guidebook for students. This handbook includes online technical guidance and online attendance rules as well as digital literacy guidelines. There are many safety and security issues related to the online learning environment. Students enrolled in distance learning have to abide by these regulations, which can be kind of a struggle. Students must follow basic online communication etiquette when interacting via an online format. This 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 characteristic of in person classes is encouraged. Still, interaction with peers needs to be cordial and respectful at all times.
#2. Lack of Motivation
Learning online and in isolation can be very demotivating after some time. This raises concerns about distance learning and adds to the challenge for students. Attending classes on time and completing all assignments on time requires a lot of motivation and discipline. Some students are naturally inclined to handle these issues while staying motivated in the online environment. But some students struggle with time management and student engagement. They may need an extra boost to stay ahead of academic deadlines, stay engaged with their courses, and make progress. A distance learning environment minus the physical presence of 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 management. This could lead to procrastination. Most students start the learning process fully engaged and committed to the ultimate goal. Later, they may find themselves less motivated as the courses progress. It is important to recognize the early signs of disengaging with online instruction and deal with them head on. Otherwise, so students may fall behind and see their grades suffer.
Overcoming the Challenge
Lack of motivation may be a big issue for online learners. In fact, it is common among all students and even professionals. It can be hard to juggle many 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 while attending school, physical campus or not.
One of the first things to do is set some goals and plan to stay on course during the program. Goals for academic futures can differ by individuals and their situations. Thus, there is no need to stress about a particular structure. If one is looking for direction, many self-help books and websites offer wonderful advice. Distance learning 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. These can be quarterly, monthly, or weekly goals. Time management techniques 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 achieved is highly motivating.
Another great way to stay motivated is to practice positive affirmations. Distance learning 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. This can be a valuable resource when the going gets tough.
Making sure that they attend all or as many online classes as possible is essential. Attending classes, interacting with teachers and peers provides a sense of belonging. This keeps distance learning 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 is also helpful. Checking in with teachers or advisors will make the whole process more productive. Productivity leads to a feeling of accomplishment which is a highly motivating factor.
#3. Feelings of Isolation
Online learning has expanded the boundaries of knowledge. It has opened doors to higher education for millions of students. It was especially important during the pandemic when the world came to a standstill. This is when students had to pack up and make the sudden switch 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.
Despite these advantages, studying online at home versus in a face to face format can lead to isolation. This is one of the biggest obstacles for online students. It is not the same as being in class physically with other students and friends. Some people do well with quiet time and isolation. Others think of the advantages of online education and keep themselves focused. But many students struggle with being alone. Or, they 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. This includes academic staff and advisors who guide and support students throughout the duration of the online program. The professors also make themselves available for students whenever they need them. Each of them has regular office hours when students can reach them. They are all dedicated to their students and ever-ready to help them achieve their goals for a better life.
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 students must use online communication etiquette. 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. It’s also a good way to stay connected with people and not feel isolated.
#4. Effective Time Management
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 instruction offers is unparalleled. But juggling a lot of responsibilities at the same time can be challenging and overwhelming. Unless students learn time management skills and keep a daily schedule, 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. Still, everyone has a different way of tackling extra responsibilities and managing time.
For many students, multitasking can help with time management. Doing two things at once will save time and help students stay ahead of their deadlines. But multitasking is not for everyone. 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. 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. This ranks high among the unique challenges of online learning for students.
Overcoming the Challenge
When creating a productive workspace, it is important to identify all elements that distract the mind. 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. This can help students stay focused on schoolwork during online instruction. There are also digital tools such as free websites and social media blockers that students can turn on during exams. Or, they can simply turn off notifications when studying. Once all tasks are completed, they can take a well-deserved break. This could mean 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. The pressure of attending class sessions and juggling study and work can be overwhelming at times. But students should never forget that help is at hand. There are, of course, friends and families to rely on. Plus, online schools also offer immense support for all remote learning students. Student advisors, teachers, and peers offer a supportive and convenient setting for learning.
If online college students focus on goals and manage their time wisely, overcoming all the above challenges of remote teaching and learning will not be a problem. They can easily stay on track and accomplish what they have set out to achieve, even without a traditional classroom environment. Interested students should shortlist colleges. They can then reach out to enrolment advisors to learn more about the programs and how to earn their degrees.
This concludes our list of the top 5 challenges facing distance learners.
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