Disadvantages of E-Learning

10 Disadvantages of E-Learning

Sander Tamm

Sander Tamm

Sander is an e-learner and co-founder of the E-Student Organization.

Published July 24, 2019

I already covered the numerous advantages of E-Learning in my previous article, and this time I will cover the opposite. There are numerous important drawbacks to E-Learning which often tend to get downplayed in online discussions. These disadvantages of E-Learning must be addressed to ensure the legitimacy and longevity of the online learning industry.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

Online student feedback is limited

In traditional classrooms, teachers can give students immediate face-to-face feedback. Students who are experiencing problems in the curriculum can resolve them quickly and directly either during the lecture or during the dedicated office hours. Personalized feedback has a positive impact on students, as it makes learning processes easier, richer, and more significant, all the while raising the motivation levels of the students.

E-Learning, on the other hand, still tends to struggle with student feedback. Students completing regular assessments become dissatisfied when they experience a lack of personalized feedback. The traditional methods of providing student feedback don’t always work in an E-Learning environment, and because of this, online education providers are forced to look towards alternative methods for providing feedback. Providing student feedback in an online setting is still a relatively unresearched topic area, and it might take a while for any specific strategies to become fully research-based and proven to be effective.

Solution: Researchers have demonstrated successful examples of peer feedback systems in online learning, which could be a potential solution to the problem of limited student feedback in e-learning. Additionally, this disadvantage of E-Learning is sometimes solved through video chats with professors, which function similarly to the professor’s office hours during on-campus training.

E-Learning can cause social Isolation

The E-Learning methods currently practiced in education tend to make participating students undergo contemplation, remoteness and a lack of interaction. As a result, many of the students and teachers who inevitably spend much of their time online can start experiencing signs of social isolation, due to the lack of human communication in their lives. Social isolation coupled with a lack of communication often leads to several mental health issues such as heightened stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts.

Solution: Some of the ways to combat loneliness and social isolation in online learning could be:

  • Promoting increased interaction between online students.
  • Utilizing blended learning environments.
  • Monitoring the students for signs of social isolation.

E-Learning requires strong self-motivation and time management skills

Lack of self-motivation among students continues to be one of the primary reasons why students fail to complete online courses. In traditional classrooms, there are numerous factors which constantly push students towards their learning goals. Face-to-face communication with professors, peer-to-peer activities, and strict schedules all work in unison to keep the students from falling off track during their studies.

In the setting of an online learning environment, however, there are fewer external factors which push the students to perform well. In many cases, the students are left to fend for themselves during their learning activities, without anyone constantly urging them on towards their learning goals. Students taking E-Learning courses will find that they are often required to learn difficult materials in a comfortable home setting without any of the added pressure normally associated with traditional colleges. As a result, keeping up with regular deadlines during online studies can become difficult for those students who lack strong self-motivation and time management skills.

Solution:  Building strong self-motivation and disciplinary skills is key to succeeding in an online learning environment. Additionally, face-to-face communication with professors can be substituted with online communication, and peer-to-peer activities should be promoted between online students similarly as it would be in traditional classrooms.

Lack of communicational skill development in online students

E-Learning methods are proven to be highly effective at improving the academic knowledge of the students. However, developing the communicational skills of the students is an area often neglected during online lessons. Due to the lack of face-to-face communication between peers, students and teachers in an online setting, the students might find that they are unable to work effectively in a team setting. Neglecting the communicational skills of the students will inevitably lead to many graduates who excel in theoretical knowledge, but who fail to pass their knowledge on to others.

Solution: Peer-to-peer group activities and online lectures which require communication must be used even in an online learning environment. In doing so, we can ensure that E-Learning does not fail to teach students the communicational skills necessary to succeed in real working environments.

Cheating prevention during online assessments is complicated

Unfortunately, one of the biggest disadvantages of E-Learning continues to be cheating through various methods. Compared to on-campus students, online students can cheat on assessments more easily as they take assessments in their own environment and while using their personal computer. The students cannot be directly observed during assessments without a video feed, making cheat detection during online assessments more complicated than for traditional testing procedures. Additionally, without a proper identity verification system in place, students taking online assessments might be able to let a third party take the assessment instead of themselves, resulting in a wholly fraudulent test result.

Solution: In order to protect the authenticity of online education, anti-cheating measures must be put in place by any online education institution. The most popular anti-cheating tools currently used in E-Learning are online proctoring systems such as Examity, which use various anti-cheating measures such as automated ID verification and machine learning to detect fraudulent test-takers.

Online instructors tend to focus on theory rather than practice

Although this drawback of E-Learning is starting to be addressed and fixed by some of the more innovative online learning platforms, the problem has yet to disappear completely. The problem is that a large portion of E-Learning training providers choose to focus largely (in many cases entirely) on developing theoretical knowledge, rather than practical skills. The reason for this is evident – theoretical lectures are considerably easier to implement in an online learning environment than practical lectures. After all, without face-to-face communication and physical classrooms to use as a workshop, implementing practical projects in an online course requires significantly more prior planning than theoretical training.

Solution: Implementing hands-on student projects in conjunction with 1:1 mentorship are some of the most effective ways of developing practical skills in online students. There are several examples of successful practice-based online courses on platforms such as Udacity and Springboard.

E-Learning lacks face-to-face communication

The lack of face-to-face communication ties together with many of the previously mentioned disadvantages of online learning. A lack of any kind of face-to-face communication with the instructor inhibits student feedback, causes social isolation, and could cause students to feel a lack of pressure. A lack of pressure is a disadvantage in the sense that it causes students to abandon their studies more easily. Constant nudging by professors may be undesirable for many, but it’s an effective method for improving student retention.

Solution: In E-Learning, face-to-face communication must be substituted with another method of communication. For example, video chats, discussion boards, and chatrooms could help deal with the negative effects associated with a lack of face-to-face communication during online learning.

E-Learning is limited to certain disciplines

All educational disciplines are not created equal, and not all study fields can be effectively used in e-learning. For now, at least. E-Learning tends to be more suitable for social science and humanities, rather than scientific fields such as medical science and engineering which require a certain degree of hands-on practical experience. No amounts of online lectures can substitute an autopsy for medical students or real-life industrial training for a budding engineer. While this could change in the future, we are currently not yet a point where we can fully teach all professions solely through E-Learning.  

Solution: For some disciplines such as medical education, blended learning could serve as an excellent alternative to fully online learning. In the case of nursing students, research showed that blended learning courses achieved similar posttest results as traditional course formats while increasing the satisfaction ratings of the participating students significantly.

Online learning is inaccessible to the computer illiterate population

96% of Americans own mobile devices, and around 73% of Americans own a personal computer. Therefore, it would be easy to argue that online education is easily accessible to most people. However, these statistics don’t paint the whole picture. Despite the booming growth in technological capabilities, the rates of computer literacy are still far from perfect. The OECD average percentage of computer illiterate people hovers around 25%, meaning that a quarter of the population will have major trouble in accessing E-Learning as an educational method. And, these are OECD countries we are talking about, which are considered developed countries with a high-income economy.

in other parts of the world, the situation is often direr. In India, for example, despite the country being one of the major players in the world of E-Learning, there is still a large gap in computer literacy in the population. Until such gaps in society exist, online education will not be able to reach all citizens. Therefore, it’s highly important that we look at online learning as an addition, rather than as a replacement to traditional education.

Solution: Finding a solution to the complex problem of raising computer literacy is no easy task. However, initiatives such as Digital India show promise in improving the computer literacy rates amongst the population.

Lack of accreditation & quality assurance in online education

If E-Learning is to be considered as effective and authentic as traditional learning, it must be ensured that all online schools are qualified and accredited. Unfortunately, at the current point in time, there are still a vast number of online learning platforms which are unaccredited and where all the materials are quality checked by no one besides the instructors themselves. As such, poor quality assurance and a lack of accredited online learning providers continue to weaken the legitimacy of online education.

Solution: There are numerous considerations for quality assurance of E-Learning, and they must be followed in order to ensure the authenticity of E-Learning. Additionally, there are accreditation management systems such as Creatrix which provide a centralized solution for the accreditation process.