5 Disadvantages of Online Learning in Higher Education

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Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by Alexandra Markin

Learning remotely has its perks, but there are also significant disadvantages of online learning many students don’t consider before choosing an online certificate, diploma or degree program.

As many students discover, online education doesn’t mean it’s easier or less work than traditional, classroom learning. This misconceptions is compounded by online learning disadvantages if steps are not taken to overcome them.

From the point of view of an online diploma graduate, this post lists the biggest disadvantages of online learning and proposed solutions for both students and institutions.

Disadvantages of Online Learning

Online education is not for everyone. It requires self-discipline, the ability to learn independently and strong time management skills.

As an online Business Management Diploma graduate, these points are based on my experience as a student and the countless discussions I had with my classmates.

1. Online Learning Requires Consistent Self-Discipline

The ability to control yourself and to make yourself work hard or behave in a particular way without needing anyone else to tell you what to do.

– Self-Discipline definition from Collins Dictionary

The dictionary definition says it perfectly: you need to be able to study consistently without prompting from your professor.

Many online education programs are done via independent study with no set assignment or exam deadlines. Students are required to complete their work independently, create their own study schedules and reach out to their instructors when they need help or have questions.

Your professors aren’t going to be emailing you every week to ask about your progress. Although I’ve had a few instructors send me email check-ins, I found for the most part this is rare. You’ll need to exercise your own self-discipline to keep yourself on track.

Motivation comes and goes. Learning how to study when you don’t feel like it separates the successful students from the ones struggling.

Online learning requires strong, consistent self-discipline. Students weak on this skill may have an especially hard time completing more challenging topics, or courses required for their program they’re not really interested in.


  • Build self-discipline by creating a course outline study schedule and sticking to it.
  • Join a program that offers courses with set assignment and exam dates.
  • Instructors should aim to send emails to students to ask about their progress and remind them that help is available if needed.

2. Strong Time Management Skills Are a Must

Online education gives you the freedom to learn on your own schedule and from almost anywhere in the world. However, without the structure of a traditional classroom some students may struggle to manage their time effectively.

Poor time management can lead to missed deadlines, incomplete assignments and poor academic performance. I know from personal experience that leaving assignments to the last minute only results in high stress, lack of sleep and lower than desired grades.

It’s not uncommon to see students run out of time to finish a course, even with a 30-week (7.5 month) completion deadline. Some students even pay over $100 for an extension fee and still not finish, all due to poor time management.


  • Make artificial deadlines for yourself and stick to them by creating a course outline study schedule that allows you to finish coursework on time.
  • Most institutions provide suggested schedules for independent study courses that you can use as a guideline.

3. Lack of Personal Interaction with Instructors

A notable disadvantage of online learning is the lack of face-to-face communication with instructors.

In traditional classroom settings, students can ask questions and get immediate feedback from their instructors. In contrast, online learning often revolves around pre-recorded lectures or textbook only learning, which does not provide the same level of instant engagement and interaction.

In many of my courses, and with a diverse cultural society in Canada, I have not known whether my teacher was a he, she or they. No pronouns were provided and no pre-recorded welcome video was available.


  • Instructors can provide a pre-recorded video personally welcoming students to the course and giving personal direction on how to receive help when needed.
  • Institutions can offer online office hours via video conferencing software such as Zoom or Skype so students are able to see their instructor and get immediate feedback on questions or concepts they need help with.

4. Limited Learning Resources

The type of learning resources available varies widely across different online courses, colleges and programs.

Some courses only offer text based learning materials while others offer a combination of text and video material.

Taking classes on campus allows students to easily access a fully stocked library and research materials, whereas online libraries can be limited and may not have the same level of resources. This can be especially challenging for students pursuing advanced degrees such as law where access to a law library is crucial.


  • If you’re more of a video/lecture learner, inquire what kind of learning resources your course offers before registering.
  • Institutions can provide online students with access to e-books, online journals and other digital resources. Some schools also partner with other institutions and libraries to expand their online resource offerings, so don’t be afraid to ask!

5. Technical Issues

Another major drawback of online learning is technical issues.

During the course of an online program, it’s inevitable that students will encounter problems with their internet connection, computer hardware of software or the learning platform itself. Technical difficulties disrupt the learning process and cause frustration for both students and instructors.

Students should be aware that sometimes they’ll have to troubleshoot technical issues (such as internet connectivity and learning platform login problems) that take time away from their studies.


  • It’s important for students to be prepared and have all the necessary items needed to facilitate technical difficulties. Read the Online College School Supply List post for an indicator of what can go wrong and how you can be prepared.
  • Institutions should ensure students have easy access to technical support and troubleshooting resources. They should also ensure their learning platforms are user-friendly, up-to-date and compatible with a variety of devices.

Disadvantages of Online Learning – Conclusion

When considering an online program, consistent self-discipline, strong time management skills and inevitable technical issues are some of the major challenges students face when learning online.

Students and educators alike must work together to overcome the disadvantages of online learning. As a student, I highly encourage you to fill out any feedback forms you receive when you finish an online course to let your instructors know what worked well and what could be improved.

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