Overcoming the 5 Biggest Barriers to Success Facing Online Learners

The ability to take courses online makes it possible for many students who would not otherwise be able to take courses to do so. But while online learning does offer many benefits, it still comes with a number of challenges, especially to students who may be new to the format.

Earlier this year, Cengage conducted a survey that asked instructors what the biggest barriers to student success were in their courses. Here, we lay out the top five as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these challenges and be a more confident and successful online student here at COD and beyond.

Time and Balancing Priorities

90% of instructors report this as one of the biggest challenges to student success.

When you’re in an online course, there’s no one looking over your shoulder to make sure you’re getting everything done each week. Your instructor may send out reminders, but you’re largely on your own to ensure that you’re staying on track.

How can you address this? Work hard on your time management skills, which means keeping track of important dates, scheduling your time to allot for studying and homework, keeping things that facilitate your procrastination at bay, and finding ways to balance the competing needs of different aspects of your life.

Also helpful: knowing the syllabus well and checking in to your class on a regular basis (even more than is required to help make it a habit). If you’re really struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your instructor or even to those close to you to provide motivation to stay on task and moving towards your goals.

Lack of Preparation

66% of instructors report this as one of the biggest challenges to student success.

Are you really ready to take an online course? This means looking not only at the course material itself but also and understanding the differing demands of a course taken entirely online will put on you as a student. Luckily, you can help prepare yourself on both fronts before your class begins.

First, review the course syllabus carefully. You’ll find out what kind of activities the course will require and what material the course will cover. You should also complete the Orientation to Online Learning in Blackboard which will help you learn how to navigate your course and feel comfortable in the LMS building your technical skills and confidence.

Academically, you can ensure that you’re prepared by reviewing the course material (as much as you can) to gain a basic familiarity with what you will be learning and the kind of work you’ll be expected to complete. This will help you address any weak spots you may have and focus your attention on areas where you may need more support, especially if you know you’ve struggled with these things in the past.

If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to your instructor for support and keep in mind that some tutoring services are available online (and many are free to students on campus), so you won’t have to struggle through coursework alone.

Social Distractions

66% of instructors report this as one of the biggest challenges to student success.

Signing up for an online course doesn’t mean your social life has to come to a halt, but if you want to be successful it does mean altering your priorities accordingly. Plan to have time for relaxation and socialization but don’t let these activities bleed into the time that you should be focusing on your course material. Find that to be a struggle? Block Facebook (and Twitter, and Tumblr, and Buzzfeed, etc), turn off your phone notifications, and find a quiet, distraction-free place to study. The more focused you can be, the more you’ll learn and the faster you’ll get your work done, ultimately leaving you more time for relaxation.

On the flip side, you can also turn social interaction into a way to help you in your course. Building relationships with your classmates can be immensely beneficial in helping you get help and support when you’re struggling with course material and easing the isolation you may feel by no longer having the physical classroom interaction you may be used to in a traditional course.

Don’t Know Where to Get Help

17% of instructors report this as one of the biggest challenges to student success.

This is perhaps one of the easiest problems to overcome for students at COD, as there are numerous support resources for students both on campus and online. Here’s a list of where you can turn for help for a wide range of issues (technical support, tutoring, course questions, advising, and more) you may encounter as an online student. We’ve tried to cover every topic you may need help with, but if you don’t find what you need, just give us a call or send us an email.

Never be afraid to reach out for help—faculty and staff want to see you succeed too and will be happy to assist you in finding the support and guidance you need to do so.

Material Is Too Difficult

6% of instructors report this as one of the biggest challenges to student success.

Some courses are going to be harder than others—there’s no way around that. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t up to the challenge. In fact, your professors think you are too—just 6% think this is a big obstacle to students learning online. But let’s say you really are anxious that a course is too hard, especially if you have never taken an online course and are also learning a whole new way of taking a course on top of the material. What do you do?

First, ask for help and let your instructor know you are struggling. Don’t wait until the day before a test or a paper to seek out assistance; ask for help early and often. You will need that extra time not only to get your instructor’s response, but also to implement whatever help you get.

Next, work with your classmates. If you’re struggling, it’s likely that someone else is too. Use that shared struggle to develop a community of learners and to study and learn together.  If you need additionally support, you can also take advantage of some of the tutoring options offered by COD.

Finally, have confidence in yourself. You can do it. Stick with it, put in the work, and rise to the challenge—it’s not only a great way to pass a class but also to prepare you for just about anything your life has to throw at you.

What do you feel has been the biggest obstacle to your success in online learning? How did you overcome it?