11 Disadvantages of E-Learning

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E-learning is a growing field of education. Despite having many skeptics and naysayers, it offers clear benefits for learners from all over the world. It provides an excellent way for all the people in the world to gather knowledge at their own pace, while also being affordable.

In some aspects, though, the skeptics have some excellent points about the deficiencies of e-learning. Some of these problem areas are getting addressed with new software pieces such as Zoom and its features, and others that are still in development.

Other deficiencies might never be solved, though. Some aspects of learning are simply not the same as in a physical classroom. Let’s take a closer look at the 11 most significant cases where e-learning is still lagging behind traditional learning methods and potential solutions to them.

1. There is a Lack of Physical Interaction

E-learning is quickly changing the sphere of education. Twenty years ago, it was practically impossible to imagine a world without physical classrooms. Today that is fast becoming a reality.

But learning over the Internet just doesn’t feel the same as learning in a classroom, does it? There’s no physical contact between students and no real friendships, and there’s no contact between teachers and students either.

While essential communication is still possible via chat and video calling software such as Zoom or Skype, it’s simply not the same. This lack of face-to-face interaction can cause students to be socially isolated, and the consequences can be vast. These include social anxiety, depression, and other mental issues.

Additionally, it’s more difficult for teachers to give proper feedback to students. This ties this point nicely with the second disadvantage, which is:

2. Teacher-to-Student Feedback is Limited

One of the key elements of teacher-to-student learning is the feedback that teachers can give to their students. In a conventional classroom environment, that feedback can come instantly, while with e-learning, this possibility is somewhat limited.

Personal feedback provides the best possible opportunity for students to learn. The learning process is much clearer, and more significant progress is made. This feedback can happen either in the classroom or through office hours, a feature that’s incredibly limited with e-learning.

While there are still student assessments with e-learning where the educator can provide some degree of feedback, it’s not as personal as it is in traditional education circles. And this partly goes back to the face-to-face contact, which is sometimes the key to help students develop a genuine rapport with the teacher.

One way around this is to communicate with other students through class forums and whatnot. While you may not be able to get direct feedback from the instructor, you can definitely get some from other students.

3. You Need Strong Self-Motivation with E-Learning

Learning at your own pace can be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, you have the flexibility to tap into the materials any time you wish. But on the other hand, you’re at your mercy when it comes to completing the assignments, meaning you’re on your own to motivate yourself to learn.

If you’re a motivated person, that’s no problem. But we get it: it’s not always easy to force yourself to study, especially when you come home after a long day at work, or when you have other obligations in your life. Plus, there’s also the danger of falling prey to many distractions around you (which we are all guilty of sometimes – hint: countless hours of unproductive Youtube video watching comes to mind…)

Traditional classrooms do a better job at this because it’s easier to get into the right frame of mind to learn. You have other students around you to put you in the mood, and you have an apparent schedule to stick to. When you have a lecture at 6 PM, it’s harder to skip than when you don’t have an exact time frame in your mind.

To help combat this, make sure you set yourself a schedule and add structure to your day. Getting a routine of organizing your day will help your time management.

4. You’re at a Risk of Social Isolation

Sure, e-learning is comfortable and all, but the lack of social contact can make things bad. You can go from bad to worse if you already lack social connections in your life.

You’re risking to become socially isolated, meaning you won’t have as many opportunities to socialize as you would in a traditional classroom setting.

The lack of physical interaction with other real human beings can be daunting. And it can lead to further problems, such as communication inhibition, higher levels of stress, social anxiety, and depression. You NEED to find a way to counteract this and supplement it with other social activities.

A lot of people use their schooling as a main social outlet. However, you don’t have that with most online learning – instead, make an effort outside of the learning environment.

5. Cheating on Exams

Yep, that is a thing in e-learning. And it’s unfair to students who give their all and do their exams honestly and fairly. There’s no denying that cheating doesn’t occur in the conventional classrooms on exams. But e-learning offers a much more comprehensive array of options when it comes to cheating, and it’s hard to control.

During an online classroom assessment, students are in their environment, and they sit behind their computers. Teachers are only able to see and control the students through a live camera feed.

And this is a problem for vetting cheaters. Educators are just not able to spot all of the cases of cheating, no matter how hard they try. Students have come up with elaborate cheating schemes, from allowing others to take their exams to having entire cheat sheets at their disposal for exams.

Most e-learning does have ways around this, and while no method is perfect it’s getting better and better with some serious exams being completed online. This space is growing fast and new initiatives are being released all the time. 

6. The Practical Element of Learning is Suffering Greatly

Specific fields of learning where a lot of practice is required are lagging behind classic learning environments because it’s almost impossible to recreate the practical element of education.

This has lead to a more theory-based approach from teachers, and some studies and courses have suffered dramatically in terms of practical learning. This is even more evident in learning fields where a lot of “doing” is involved rather than only theory.

Physical classrooms have all the gear for practical studying, which is sometimes too expensive for students to afford. Just take chemistry as an example: not only is the equipment mostly unattainable for the average person, it’s also incredibly expensive, which makes practical learning significantly harder.

Teachers can add some practical work by using a ladder approach to learning. With this approach, educators can build on theoretical knowledge with practical instruction. There are also some ways around getting one-on-one practical instruction online. For example, some sports coaches and trainers organize weekly practical sessions where they analyze video of the student and work on strategies. 

7. Only Certain Disciplines Can Be Taught via E-Learning

This point ties nicely with the previous disadvantage. Because there are no home facilities for many students, studying specific disciplines through e-learning is practically impossible.

This means e-learning is primarily focused on theory-heavy disciplines where there’s not much practical studying done. For example, it’s almost impossible for medical students to learn purely through e-learning, as they won’t perform real-life operations and surgeries and take practice.

Or, engineering, where theory is essential, but the practical element is vital. Unless you have the facilities to learn the practical part at home, you’re at a massive disadvantage to students that study engineering in conventional classrooms. Some disciplines are just not viable for e-learning.

This is unlikely to change in the future, with a blended learning approach becoming more and more popular. For example, nursing students doing the theory online, and heading into labs for practical work once a month.

8. The Quality of Teachers is Questionable at Times

Another potential issue with e-learning is that teachers are not vetted like in traditional schools, especially on some online learning marketplaces like Udemy. Sure, if you’re taking an entire college online, you’re likely to get quality teachers, but there’s still an element of doubt about the quality of learning.

Not all teachers are great instructors, and it’s not easy to find the right blend of personal skills and teaching skills, even for schools and colleges. And, there’s also a notable lack of official accreditation and quality assurance institutions for e-learning.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that anyone can teach online, especially on sites like Udemy. That means it’s hard to control who gets to teach, which ultimately decreases all other teachers’ credibility online.

Ultimately, the only way to avoid this issue is to do a lot of research on different e-learning platforms and colleges. It’s time-consuming, but it can also be rewarding once you find a platform where you respect the teachers.

Look for courses like The Great Courses Plus, that have college-level instructors.

9. It Requires Some Degree of Technological Literacy

Today, almost everyone has a mobile phone, or a laptop, or both. 81% of all American citizens have a mobile phone, which is a stunning figure. Pair that with the fact that 90% of Americans use the Internet, and you’re getting a powerful combination. So for all those people, e-learning is possible as long as they have some literacy in technology.

However, up to 25% of all the population is illiterate when it comes to computers. They may own a smartphone or a laptop, but they still don’t know how to navigate the Internet properly and access the learning materials that e-learning has to offer.

Let’s be fair here – e-learning doesn’t take too much computer skills or even technology literacy. Most of the time, all it takes is to sign up, create an account, log in, access the materials, download them, and sometimes, complete interactive assessments or other materials.

So e-learning doesn’t reach everyone in the world, although that is likely to keep improving yearly.

However, this is also an issue for in-person classes. For example, you can’t go to Harvard without being in Boston. But you can take their online classes from anywhere.

10. Accreditation Issues

There’s still this niggling feeling within the community of learners that online accredited studies are somehow inferior to accreditations earned through attending a physical college or school.

Some online learning programs are just as challenging as traditional schools, if not even more challenging. You still have to complete assignments, quizzes, tests, exams, and other obligations to keep you well busy.

While $20 Udemy courses don’t come even close to being as in-depth than a college program, online colleges are now just as comprehensive as physical colleges. Instead, we should think of Udemy courses as additional sources of knowledge that we should consider.

Additionally, many schools and online studying programs still don’t offer accreditations or certificates to complete programs. That’s still changing, though.

11. Limited Community Development

Today, many online courses, especially the popular ones, have healthy communities of learners where thousands of students connect every day. However, these communities are very different from traditional classroom communities – most of them are online, and the potential to meet face-to-face is limited.

It’s much harder to develop genuine friendships or even relationships with distance learning, which is entirely possible with learning in physical institutions.

In this regard, e-learning might never reach the level of physical classrooms. Unless new technologies like VR or AR are implemented, this will be limited. And even then, the connections just wouldn’t be the same.

Final Thoughts

E-learning has some significant advantages over traditional learning methods, but it still lacks in certain areas. There’s a notable lack of physical connections and face-to-face communication, while there are still some issues when it comes to cheating in exams and accreditation problems.

E-learning still has a long path to walk, we believe. Some of these disadvantages will eventually be ironed out, while others might never be resolved.

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About the author: Hey there! I’m Vince. I’m a trained and practicing teacher with experience in e-learning and course design, along with having an extensive background in building and maintaining websites. I started EduTest Labs to help course creators and students find the best resources (without the BS).