Op-ed: 3 reasons online learning institutions fail

Key challenges online educators face in their quest for mainstream industry and marketplace acceptance—and solutions to help succeed.

fail-online-institutionsOnline learning technology has the potential to expand quality education to a growing number of students; however, pairing online learning technology with the same face-to-face method is not enough to ensure success, as many online institutions are coming to find.

This year (2015), working adult students, in particular, are turning to the Internet in pursuit of more cost-effective classes, certification programs and entire degrees in droves. However, while there are numerous proven benefits to an online education–such as flexible learning schedules, budget-friendliness and access to industry-leading curriculums–the industry is not without its challenges, as many online institutions face enrollment decline

Indeed, online educators face three key challenges in their journey toward mainstream industry and marketplace acceptance:

Challenge 1: Establishing a relevant curriculum

The learning dynamic we’ve grown accustomed to with traditional, face-to-face courses varies greatly from a technology-based online learning environment. Thus, in order to succeed, the development of an online curriculum must address these differences and prepare students for the unique challenges they will face in an Internet-based environment.

A study conducted by Colombia University in 2013 confirms that a well-planned curriculum is paramount to ensuring the successful learning outcome of online students. The study showed that factors such as clearly communicated goals and learning objectives, successful use of technology, and opportunity for personal interaction with instructors and other students were the main distinguishing factors in predicting the success of online students. In the past, some institutions have rushed to develop distance-learning education programs, and it has resulted in substandard programs that failed to keep up with current business trends and standards. Many times, academics who create these courses have not worked in that industry for many years and are not up to date with the expectations that students will face while entering the competitive job market.


Online curriculums should be kept constantly up-to-date with the current trends happening in each respective sector, and preferably be designed around the people who have found great success in the business world. A primary example is “The Daymond John Certificate of Entrepreneurship” targeted at aspiring entrepreneurs, junior and mid-level managers. . This program, created by FUBU founder and ABC-TV Shark Tank star, Daymond John, is ideal for students seeking practical business skills, such as identifying market trends, bringing a new product or service to the market, and learning strategies to start and grow a business. The program is designed for real-world applications, and is backed by one of the most iconic and successful entrepreneurs in the country.

Another example of an industry-leading online curriculum designed by an industry insider is the MBA program at Strayer University, created by Jack Welch, chairman and CEO of General Electric. The program is redefining the traditional Master of Business Administration degree by making each course available entirely online, and taking advantage of technology-based tools, such as video conferencing, to better connect with students. Welch’s program also allows professionals to pursue an education, and advance their career without quitting their current job.

 (Next page: Skill sets and motivation)

Challenge 2: Ensuring students develop crucial skills

Whatever a student’s area of study, there are certain concrete skills that every employer prioritizes and values in today’s workplace. According to a survey conducted by NACE, an association of professional engineers from around the world, the top three skills most desired by employers were as follows: an ability to make decisions and solve problems, strong verbal communication with people inside and outside the organization, and lastly, the ability to obtain and process relevant information. General skills are essential to any job, but it also dramatically helps to direct students toward degrees, or certificates in a fields that are currently hiring. According to the same study by NACE, the current top three desired degrees are business, engineering, and accounting, but this list is constantly changing and adapting.

Surprisingly, it’s been reported that 4 in 10 U.S. college graduates do not possess the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to a test of nearly 32,000 students. This lack of preparation reinforces the need for continuing and professional education programs to equip adult students who are returning to the classroom to succeed and excel in their professional lives.


Online schools seeking to equip their graduates with the most relevant and in-demand skill sets for today’s job market must have an agile framework, and provide their students with the courses and learning opportunities to gain and develop the intangible skills that thought-leaders within specific verticals obtain. One way to do this is through certificate programs; which are shorter, and more specifically targeted then their degree counterparts. Males with professional certificates make 39 percent more than the median male worker with an associate degree, and 24 percent more than a male with a bachelor’s degree. For women, the numbers are 34 and 23 percent respectively.

To help prepare students more efficiently, institutions like T.D. Jakes School of Leadership provide a wide breadth of both degrees and professional certificates in a variety of disciplines. Their Women’s Leadership Institute, for example, is a transformational, intensive leadership program that helps women refine effective leadership behaviors and competencies that will help them excel in the workplace

Challenge 3: Keeping students motivated

Finding the motivation to stay dedicated to academic pursuits can be tough when there are distractions and commitments vying for an adult student’s time. When students are learning online, these distractions can prove even more troublesome because of the relaxed schedule and informal learning environment:there is nothing stopping students from being pulled away by demands from the workplace or relating to family obligations.


Online courses often have syllabi just like their traditional counterparts, which outline the class schedule and allow students to plan in advance for upcoming lectures, assignments, and tests. By setting up a structured environment with clear deadlines and milestones, online schools can drastically reduce a student’s likelihood to procrastinate and increase their ability to work and learn efficiently.

Today, fully 75 percent of small to midsize businesses embrace online credentials. For those seeking to take their career to the next level, earning a certificate or degree from an online university can be an efficient, cost-effective and highly-valued way to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace, advance in their careers and better ensure entrepreneurial success. Online learning is the future of education and has been linked to a higher quality of life. As the old adage goes, “the more you know, the more you grow.”

Dr. Steve Perry, MSW is an education expert and best-selling author of Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve – Even If It Means Picking a Fight among other titles. Dr. Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CT, is also the host of “Save My Son,” a TVONE docudrama. He may be reached online at


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