14 Struggles Only Online Students Would Understand


Female student studying on a couch with a book and laptop

When Daniel DiGriz is asked about his experiences with online learning, his immediate reaction is to flash a big smile because he knows he made the right decision.

In fact, he was so fond of his time as an online student that he went on to become an online teacher and currently develops online courses as the director of digital strategy at MadPipe. Needless to say, he knows the first-hand struggles of an online student.

Online learning definitely has its perks, but it’s not for everyone. There are some common complications that many online students face and it’s helpful to know what to expect. If you’re considering becoming an online student and want to know if you have what it takes to overcome the obstacles, this article is for you.

We enlisted a handful of online students who were once in your shoes to share some of the struggles they encountered.

14 Common struggles online students overcome

1. You can’t just raise your hand

Online students enjoy the flexibility of working their classwork into their busy schedules. But when it’s midnight and you have a question on an assignment due in the morning, an email or phone call to your instructor is out of the question.

But you’re not completely out of luck, according to Orun Bhuiyan, co-founder of SEOcial. He says it’s perfectly appropriate to reach out to a classmate via social media, even if you don’t know them extremely well.

2. It can be difficult to stay motivated

“In an online environment, you are your own boss and you are given a lot of freedom,” says Abigail Mason, founder of Hey Abigail. She says this can be both a blessing and a curse. Online students need to be self-motivated because you won’t have your peers or instructors leaning over your shoulder holding you accountable.

3. Weekends can be busy

Evenings and weekends tend to be busier for online students because so much of the week is taken up by professional responsibilities, according to Cameron DeJong, founder of Campaign Joy. While it may put a damper on your social life, DeJong says the flexibility of online learning will help you develop personal accountability.

4. Technology can fail

Online courses are dependent on technology and the reality is that technology isn’t always reliable. Former online student Amber Hunt is an author and journalist who recalls a few instances when a site was down and she didn’t give herself enough of a cushion to deal with it. She says those frustrating situations served as a lesson to never procrastinate.

5. There are more distractions at home

The distractions at home are the toughest, according to DiGriz. Not to mention Instagram, Twitter and every other social media site are only a click away. His advice for combating these distractions is setting up a clearly defined office space and maintaining 'office hours' in your home for learning.

6. Quality of participation can’t always be measured

Online students can’t really earn brownie points from instructors by sitting in the front row, taking notes and being actively engaged during class, which is not always the case with online students. When logged in to a live lecture, your instructor won’t know if you’re listening intently or playing Candy Crush in a different browser. Though you may not get the recognition for the effort you put forth, you can rest assured knowing you are acquiring the knowledge you’ll need to pursue your ideal career.

7. You might second-guess your decision

“The worst part of taking classes online is purely psychological,” says Adam Kirby, an online student and associate at Caveo Learning. He says there will likely be times when you’ll wonder if you couldn’t just acquire the same level of education by reading a few books or watching some YouTube videos. But in the end, he believes it’s worth it because online students have an exceptional learning experience.

8. You won’t get the “full college experience”

Online students miss out on all of the stereotypical college experiences like dorm rooms, football games and fraternities. If these things appeal to you, online classes are probably not the best choice. For others, like Hunt, that’s not the case. “Now that I’m a mom as well as a full-time professional, it feels like a virtual classroom is my best bet,” she says.

9. You’ll have to combat the stigma of online coursework

“You always hear myths or misconceptions about the value of an online education,” says Sandra Rand, director of marketing at OrionCKB. “I truly felt that I was challenged and worked hard to earn [my degree].” She says many employers will recognize your go-getter attitude and self-motivated personality once they know you committed to earning a degree online.

10. Small assignments can slip through the cracks

You probably won’t forget about the midterm exam or 10-page paper, but it’s easy to overlook small, routine assignments. Mason says there are often discussion board posts or relatively simple tasks that can fall off of your radar, resulting in a loss of easy points. Online students tend to sharpen their organization skills and attention to detail, which will both set you up for success in the real world.

11. You may also be working full time

Many online college students understand what it’s like working full time while earning their degree. Hunt claims the busy workload was well worth it, citing that balancing school and work allowed her to earn her degree in two years instead of four.

12. You might feel isolated

Rand remembers the feeling of seclusion when she was an online student. If she was studying for an exam and had a question or wanted to clarify something, reaching out for help wasn’t always simple. She says to remember that you’re not alone. It may take a little extra effort, but most instructors are available to help via phone or email.

13. Plagiarism can be tempting

“Take online learning seriously. Don't plagiarize just because the web is a cut and paste environment,” DiGriz says. It’s easy to turn to Google to find an answer or an example, especially when you’re not under the direct supervision of others. Translate everything into your own ideas and avoid relying too heavily on the Internet for assignments.

14. Group projects can be tricky

Learning to communicate and effectively use technology to work as a team can be challenging, according to Matthew Vestal, communications director at Perimeter Church. Your group members may be in different cities or even time zones, so a little extra coordination will be necessary. But Vestal says this experience will prepare you for working in today’s digital work environment.

They did it … so can YOU!

Many assume that online learning is the easy route, but you can see that isn’t the case. There will inevitably be some snags along the way, but all of these veterans agree that the advantages far outweigh the struggles.

If you’re confident you can overcome these obstacles like they did, find out if you’re ready to become an online student.

About the author

Aaron Lawrence

Aaron is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. His interest in writing articles for students stems from his passion for poetry and fiction and the belief that all words can educate.

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