online learning

Challenges in taking higher ed online–and how to address them


A few key principles can help institutions navigate the expansion or implementation of online learning programs

The higher education field has never been more competitive. Today’s institutions are going to extraordinary lengths to keep enrollment levels high, often spending so much money on amenities that some observers have said modern campuses are taking on a “resort-like” feel.

However, new amenities aren’t the approach forward-thinking campus leaders are taking to make their institutions more attractive and competitive. These days, college students expect to have access to sophisticated online-learning programs. By offering courses that can be taken when and where it’s convenient for students (and on the devices of their choice), higher-learning institutions satisfy the needs and desires of today’s digitally minded students.

Even better for schools, expanded online learning can result in significant financial savings. Online education increases efficiency and reduces costs associated with staffing, transportation, hosting, and course creation.

While those benefits are quite profound, institutions must remain cognizant of the very real challenges to negotiate when expanding or implementing online learning programs.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at common missteps to avoid when growing your online offerings.

Online learning challenges

Careful, diligent preparation can help ensure that the creation or expansion of online-learning programs occurs with minimal turbulence. Fortunately for higher-learning institutions growing their online offerings today, we have a long track record of what works and what doesn’t to evaluate before moving forward.

Next page: 8 online learning program challenges to anticipate

A list of challenges to anticipate should include the following:

1. Managing external perceptions or expectations. Although online learning has had an exponential growth in recent years, too many people still have misapprehensions about the process. Some learners feel that online learning isn’t as credible as in-person instruction, or they are afraid of the learning curve. Managing these perceptions is a key challenge when introducing online learning initiatives — and it doesn’t merely apply to students and parents. Institutional stakeholders who are not very convinced of the benefits of online learning need to be educated as well.

2. Technical demands. Online-learning expansion requires sufficiently robust infrastructure and technical support. Higher-learning institutions need to ensure that connectivity/bandwidth issues and other potential traps don’t undermine the learning process.

3. Finding the right platform. This is perhaps the single most impactful decision to make when pursuing online learning. For most institutions, this means choosing an advanced, cloud-based distance-learning system. The best of these platforms offer a range of powerful features that make learning more accessible and engaging. High-definition audio/video support, sophisticated management and tracking tools, embedded social functionality, mobile optimization, and intuitive course-creation tools are some of the most important features to look for.

4. A plan for scalability. Today’s students have a demonstrated affinity for online learning, so any program needs to be built with the future in mind. The simplest way to future-proof your online- learning program is by choosing software designed with scalability in mind. This should be a key attribute when evaluating various platforms.

5. Content issues. The best-designed online-learning program and the most advanced software tools can’t overcome a lack of compelling content. Higher-learning institutions need to encourage the creation of engaging course content that fully maximizes the capabilities of their online-learning platforms.

6. Compliance with course mandates. Successful online learning requires students and teachers to buy into the process. Because online learning gives students more responsibility and independence, there is a risk that participation or attendance could decline. To avoid this, it’s essential to leverage the technology in place. Social and collaborative functions in an advanced distance-learning system, for example, can help students stay on track by offering gentle reminders, positive reinforcement, and social support. Falling behind in class is another common reason for student disengagement. These platforms can help ensure online learners keep pace with their lessons by offering real-time feedback, digital hand-raising, and emotive responses.

7. The digital divide. Higher-learning institutions should always remain cognizant that student populations vary widely when it comes to access or familiarity with technology. Online-learning programs should be designed with these disparities in mind. Schools should make sure that online learning is equally accessible to all students and that every student is sufficiently prepared to succeed in the course.

8. Institutional skepticism. Like any large entity, higher-learning institutions contain multitudes of people with varying viewpoints. It’s a mistake to assume that everyone is up to date in understanding online-learning processes or their benefits. Institutional support is deeply important to the overall success or failure of any new initiative. Another important point to remember: The success or failure of online learning is often determined before the first course is taught. Proper planning is critically important. Campus leaders who anticipate potential problems before they develop can quickly pivot to make necessary correctives.

The takeaway

After years of sustained growth, the benefits of online learning have become quite evident to higher-learning institutions. Yet these advantages are largely contingent on smart execution and management. All of the positives of online learning can be quickly undermined by poor planning or half-hearted administration.

To give your online-learning initiative the best possible chance to thrive, please give careful consideration to the challenges illustrated above. By doing so, you can help students achieve great educational outcomes, expand access to instruction, and generate a strong return on your investment.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

eSchool Media Contributors

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.