Challenges to Online Student Success

Challenges to Online Student Success

Online students have unique circumstances and needs that differ from our traditional student populations. It is important to understand the barriers that they encounter to effectively guide them in their learning experiences with an online course.  “Considering the learner-centered nature of all instructional design models, it is a necessity to design and implement online distance education programs that meet the needs of diverse learners including adults. This requires a sound understanding of the link between adult learners’ characteristics and the appropriateness of the online environments for their online experiences” (Kara et al., 2019).

Adult learners may lack the same level of support and guidance provided to college students through resources and orientation programs. As a result, they may feel isolated in their educational journey. The difficulties they face in their studies can become more pronounced when they lack sufficient support from their families and workplaces. Furthermore, adults have various roles to fulfill, such as being a spouse, parent, colleague, and student, which adds extra responsibilities and workload to their already demanding lives (Thompson & Porto, 2014).

Time Management Challenges

One of the largest issues online students face today is time.  Much of the literature on distance education states that “adult learners are different from traditional students since they have family and work responsibilities. For this reason, they need to manage their family and work while continuing their education” (Kara et al., 2019). The ability to juggle work responsibilities, family responsibilities, and online courses can be difficult when students are being pulled in so many different directions. Many adult students are just trying to keep their head above water so to speak. If a student has any kind of unexpected additional stress due to unforeseen circumstances (i.e. natural disasters, military duty, death in the family, heath crisis, etc.), it could be more than they physically and/or mentally can handle.

An instructor can help students manage their time in various ways. One approach is to assist them by setting due dates during the weekend. This enables students to find a balance between their academic workload and personal life, allowing them to choose a schedule that suits them best. Another effective method for instructors to address time-related challenges is by implementing a reasonable late assignment policy. Additionally, it is crucial for instructors to have the course materials available on time. This ensures that students can begin their courses smoothly without any unnecessary stress or anxiety caused by unpreparedness.

Learning Challenges

One of the factors that pose learning challenges is inconsistency with the basic location (course shell) of course materials from one course to another. Online students should have a learning curve in understanding the course material. However, they should expect the layout of one online course to be similar in nature to all of the other online classes they take. If courses have all course content in the same place (e.g. in the Module tab) from one course to the other, it is less likely to cause confusion and save limited time finding it. Some students get so confused and frustrated by some of the drastic differences between their courses, it can make them feel overwhelmed. Some students give up and withdraw due to these extra obstacles.

Online students face a number of additional challenges that can affect their ability to learn. Some challenges can be different learning styles or even disabilities that require accommodations within a course. According to Klawitter (2022), “In the traditional classroom, teachers can monitor the students and adjust their pace to accommodate anyone who needs extra time. In an online learning environment, it’s more difficult to do so”. Obviously, it is more difficult to monitor virtual students. This can lead to students falling through the cracks if professors aren’t actively paying attention to those languishing and/or struggling. It is much more efficient to be proactive in our course design and planning than reactive after problems arise. If you have any questions about your online course or how to help students, feel free to contact


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Klawitter, A. (2022). 5 challenges students face with online learning in 2022. Meratas. Retrieved February 24, 2023 from

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