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Top Challenges Online College Students Face and How To Cope

By Charlene Lattea, WVU Online | Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Is online college right for you? Uncover the challenges you might face and how to tackle them with practical strategies

Online learning has revolutionized education and earned the respect of students across the world because of its many advantages, including flexibility, convenience, and lower cost.

However, online education comes with its own set of challenges that students must navigate effectively.

These result from the lack of face-to-face communication and require adaptation and resilience.

In this article, we will explore some of the biggest challenges faced by online students and provide tips and strategies to help you stay on track and achieve your goals.

5 Challenges Online College Students Face

What are the main challenges that you will face as an online student?

Many students report feeling a lack of motivation, feelings of isolation, time management problems, having too many distractions, and encountering technical difficulties as they take their first steps into the world of online college.

Although online programs are set up nearly the same as traditional on-campus ones, online learners must adapt to doing almost everything via the internet and also to being responsible for managing their time and staying motivated.

Let’s take a closer look at the main challenges of online learning and see how you can cope.

1. Lack of Motivation

When you first started your online program, you were probably extremely excited about this new adventure in your life. You were fully engaged and committed to your goal.

However, as time passed and you found yourself sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, you may have started to lose motivation.

Attending classes and completing assignments online requires a lot of discipline.

The environment is not as exciting as meeting face-to-face with teachers and classmates on campus, and you may not feel the same sense of urgency to get things done.

How to Cope

How can you maintain student motivation and engagement throughout your coursework? Try these ideas:

Get feedback: Make sure you get timely feedback from professors and other students on a regular basis. This will keep you motivated and also help you track your progress in the course. You could also set up a study group online.

Set goals: Write down your daily goals and to-do lists and work through these to get things done and meet deadlines. Crossing things off your list comes with a feeling of accomplishment, which helps sustain motivation.

Stay on track: Be sure to keep up with your classes, assignments, and projects, and don’t fall behind. Deal with problems with motivation as soon as they show up.

Use self-help books and websites. Consult self-help books and websites to get advice. Check out blogs such as Pick the Brain, The Positivity Blog, or Daniel Pink.

Reward yourself. Be sure to reward yourself for a job well down. This could be anything from a candy bar to a trip to your favorite holiday destination. A reward will help to keep you motivated and will give you something to look forward to after all your hard work.

2. Trouble Shooting Technical Issues from Home

The only things you need to take online classes include some type of computer and an internet connection. With these, you can attend classes from anywhere.

However, if you face technical issues, you may have a problem. Students on campus can easily ask for help from the school’s IT department, but online students may have to figure things out on their own.

Good internet access is not always available in some areas, which creates a barrier for online learners. You need an internet connection that is stable and secure.

Other technical issues include difficulty accessing video conferencing platforms, weak monitors, needed software updates, unique software requirements, bad connections, or websites that crash unexpectedly.

How to Cope

Most high-quality online schools and schools with online programs now offer technical support by phone, email, and live chat to help you resolve technical issues.

WVU Online offers first-level technical support for online students through the ITS Service Desk. Answers to common questions are posted online, and the service desk investigates and resolves problems related to ITS-supported systems and applications.

Check the ITS website for more information.

3. Feelings of Isolation

Online learning has opened doors to higher education for students worldwide, but limited student-teacher interactions and face-to-face contact with peers can sometimes create feelings of isolation.

Many people struggle with learning alone, and this may be one of your biggest obstacles as an online student. After all, humans are social beings.

How to Cope

WVU Online provides student support systems to help you with any problem you may have, including feeling alone and isolated. You can always speak with advisors, coaches, and counselors anytime. You can also reach out to your professors, and they will help you.

In addition, try these solutions:

Stress management techniques: Stress is a common problem for online students. Use stress management techniques such as getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, listening to music, progressive muscle relaxation, socializing, meditation, and "going with the flow."

Interact with others: Interact with fellow students via social media groups, chat rooms, and forums. This is just like talking to them in class, except that it is online. Ask questions, have group discussions, and ask to work on team projects.

Networking: Take advantage of networking opportunities. Online schools almost always offer these opportunities for students to interact with other students and mentors. You also have a huge network of alumni worldwide that is available to you.

Real-time communication tools: Use tools to help you communicate in real-time. These include video conferencing software to have live conversations one-on-one or in a group setting; instant messaging apps for texting; Skype, Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom, and Google Hangouts, among others.

4. Too Many Distractions

With all the responsibilities online students usually juggle, it may be hard to concentrate on coursework due to too many distractions.

If you work at home, you may be surrounded by family members who need your attention, or you may be tempted to watch television, listen to music, scroll the internet and social media sites, or play online games.

How to Cope

To resolve the problem of too many distractions, try these tips:

Identify all distractions and try to eliminate them. Identify all the things that distract you and keep you from doing your work, and make sure they are far away from your study space. Turn off notifications and mute unnecessary stimuli. There are even apps that can help you with this!

Set up blocked study time. Build a daily schedule and stick to it. Let other people in your house know that you will be working at this time and you are not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency.

Check email and other messages only at specific times. Don’t keep checking messages while you are trying to work. You can also use websites and social media blockers that turn on at certain times.

Use study apps. Use study apps such as My Study Life, Evernote, and Quizlet to make note-taking and studying easier.

5. Time Management

Students attending classes online often have difficulty juggling school work, a full-time job, and other day-to-day responsibilities such as caring for a family. This can be overwhelming and result in poor sleep, poor work habits, and increased stress. It is important to find a balance between studies and day-to-day life.

With the help of effective time management skills, you can get everything done with less anxiety. This involves keeping to a daily schedule, and focusing on your goals.

How to Cope

Here are some tips for better managing your time as an online student:

Create daily to-do lists. Break down your semester goals into to-do lists and also keep a calendar or daybook for all of your activities. Keeping a daily check-list is important to help you stay on task and keep track of your progress.

Multitask or do timed tasks. Doing two or more things at once will save time and ensure that you meet deadlines. However, this may be too stressful for some people. For some, it is better to complete one task at a time and mark it off your to-do list.

Take breaks. One of the most important parts of doing good work is taking breaks on a regular basis, so build in time for play, fun, and relaxation. Your mind will get tired and your progress will slow down unless you take a break.

Analyze your time and identify trouble spots. Figure out how you have been spending your time and whether or not it is efficient. Identify trouble spots that are slowing you down and see where you can save time.

Break tasks down into smaller parts. Trying to take on a big job in a small time frame is exhausting and creates anxiety and stress. The trick to break the work down into smaller parts and keep your energy fresh as you complete each part.

Set early deadlines. Deadlines can be stressful, but they are necessary and can be highly motivating. Set your own deadlines for yourself and give yourself a buffer zone before the real deadline comes. The most important thing is to start early.

Use productivity apps. Take advantage of the numerous time management apps available today. Some of these include: Google Calendar,, Microsoft To Do, Clockify, and many others.

Is WVU Online Your Next Step?

While online learning does have its challenges, remember that WVU Online provides the support you need to overcome them and to succeed.

It is now time to do further research and evaluate whether online learning aligns with your personal learning style and life situation.

WVU Online is an ideal starting point in your search for the right school. Our degrees are perfect for working professionals or others who want the convenience and flexibility of online learning from a nationally recognized university.

Learn More

Contact the Coaches at Our Learning Engagement Center

After reading this article, if you are unsure about your goals, or how to identify your interests and skills, be sure to reach out to one of our WVU Online admissions coaches. They are trained to help you look at your individual situation and make the right choice for your future.

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