Home Flipping the Classroom (Reverse Instruction) 6 Challenges of E-Learning That Educators Should Strive to Overcome

6 Challenges of E-Learning That Educators Should Strive to Overcome



Being Aware of These Online Learning Challenges can Help Educators Create Better Experiences for Their Students

Have you noticed that e-learning has been developing rapidly? Its progress influences the results of online education in a positive way.

2016 has already introduced surprising eLearning trends that help people all over the world.

There has been quite a lot of research lately about the effects of e-learning on the brain in general. This information is useful for those who are designing online coursework. With the leading role of gamification in the educational process, online e-learning programs make an emphasis on the huge positive effect of games and visuals. However, not all of them succeed.

The thing is that understanding the processes involved in acquiring new concepts and skills is instrumental in creating course content that’s effective.

But sometimes, e-learning programs lack the necessary elements that can influence negatively the whole process. Those elements or, it’s better to say, aspects depend directly upon our mental peculiarities, namely, our brain functioning.

How to avoid them? How to make your e-learning program a successful tool for the future of education?

Let’s take a look at the most frequent drawbacks that are connected with the singularity of our brains and that can affect the results of e-learning.

1. Lost in the Internet

According to a study in the International Journal of Mobile Communications and Telematics, there are some potentially warning effects of e-learning on the brain.  One of these is something called the “Lost in Internet” effect.

It’s no secret that the Internet contains an infinite amount (almost too much!) information on every topic imaginable. When it comes to online learning, this has the potential to enhance learning by offering the freedom to explore large amounts of knowledge. However, the deluge of information can cause learners to lose their sense of direction and become “lost,” lacking a sense of direction in much the same way that a ship may encounter difficulties when navigating a large sea. Learners can quickly become disoriented by the random and irrelevant information they encounter and lose direction in their quest for real learning.

All this happens because of ambiguity of tasks and instructions. A person isn’t quite sure what was expected of him/her or what purpose s/he could achieve by completing a certain online training course. Whatever the case may be, e-learners may fail to feel as though the direction was clear enough. That immediately provoked the sense of disorientation.

This is why it’s crucial to sound as clear as possible especially in the instructions and guidelines. Let people know exactly how long it will take to complete the online training course, as well as what online activities are expected.

2. Good-Bye, Reality

Virtual reality is just that… “virtual.” It cannot replace the experience of living and functioning in the real world.

As learners begin to rely heavily on virtual technology, it risks becoming their sole, one-sided perception of reality. They may even become unsure of the difference between the online world and the real world. They lose track of the knowledge that their most basic human needs cannot be met in a virtual reality.  This disconnect with the real world can cause deep psychological problems.

To avoid this, you can create a flexible schedule for your online training that gives control of when e-learners will complete the course. Why is it needed? To divide the tasks and activities into smaller parts to make them shorter. That will help break the bounds of virtual reality and let the brain loose of all the online actions.

Make recordings of live webinars if you do them, so that learners can still participate later after some rest and when they have enough time. In other words, give your learners a chance to have some rest in the process.

3. Weakening Intellectual and Logical Abilities

Learners today have become accustomed to technology doing most of the work for them. There is technology readily available to quickly assist them with gathering information and problem-solving.  For example, students no longer need to use context clues to decode the meaning of an unfamiliar word. A dictionary is available right at their fingertips to provide this information.

Consequently, e-learners risk losing their ability to think abstractly or to reflect deeply on a problem. Students come to rely on the linear presentation of knowledge that is available via technology, and thus may no longer be able to organize new knowledge on their own.

One huge mistake you can make is under-estimating quizzes.

Quizzes increase the intellectual abilities of the brain and give an impulse to think hard, especially when they should be completed during a short period of time.

More than that, you can improve your courses by considering quizzes as a learning tool rather than something for testing the level of knowledge. You can start a section with drag-and-drop exercise (preferably, a non-graded one) to present a notion/concept or to present a process (an ordering assessment).

4. Decrease in Knowledge Retention

The goal of most e-learning courses is to condense lessons into “bite-sized” chunks of instruction which can easily be accomplished in short periods of time. Researchers have found that e-learning is ineffective when course designers are not able to adequately integrate “micro-learning” modules into an online class.

It’s important to keep in mind that students need opportunities to assess their own knowledge through self-quizzes and/or summaries of content before taking a formal exam.

Microlearning has been found to be very effective because it offers information in short, focused chunks, thus avoiding an over-abundance of information and possible cognitive overload.

To help learners keep tracking their progress, give more online assessments. Mostly, online training courses suggest an online test at the end of the training. However, you can improve your assessment strategy including test/exams after each module or activity. It will not only test the progress and knowledge retention, but will also give the opportunity to celebrate success on each level.

Besides, an online assessment is not only a test/exam, it can be also a simulation, online scenario, game, etc.

5. Pictorial Superiority Effect

The research is clear: the majority of us are visual learners. Images make far more of a lasting impression on our brains than text does. The problem is that most digital media is much friendlier to text than images. To design an online course effectively, educators need to ensure that there are lots of visual elements to optimize knowledge retention.

John Medina's book “Brain Rules” cites a study which revealed that if we are assessed 72 hours after instruction, we remember only about 10% of information that is presented verbally. But simply adding an image caused the assessment result to jump by about 65%. There is actually a name for this: the “Pictorial Superiority Effect.” This states that we are able to remember and recognize visual input far more easily than other mediums, without taking into consideration the amazing effects of music.

One simple and important thing to do here is to replace the text on slides, for example, with graphics or images and you can place the text into the audio recording. It may really sound a bit drastically, but it can improve the learning abilities of your audience.

Overloading your audience with looking at the picture, reading the text, and listening to the audio file at the same time is too much.

You decrease the number of tasks to process by removing the text. And your e-learning courses will be much more effective, if there are visuals (images, graphics, videos, etc.) incorporated into tasks and instructions.

6. Not Enough Challenge

Effective instruction means differentiating to meet learners where they are. Students will not be able to engage if coursework is too easy for them or too challenging. When designing online coursework, gauge the level of your students accurately in order to provide content that matches their needs. This kind of differentiation can be more difficult in an online environment, but appropriate cognitive rigor is a necessary prerequisite for student engagement and learning.

There’s always room for improvement, right? Challenging your audience with the same tasks is just inappropriate. To make your courses really challenging, you can vary your modules, give different tasks and activities, etc.

But above all, you should know beforehand the level of your e-learner. For this, you may include an assessment task before the course begins. And after that, you can variate the courses according to the abilities of your audience.

So, we have spoken much about how it shouldn’t be, but e-learning per se is a productive activity that aims at growth and thrift of intellectuality.

What about your program? Do you feel that your e-learning program lacks something? Or is it perfect?

Please let us know in the comments below.


  1. Great blog, you’ve really highlighted some of the key issues with e-learning and how to avoid them. It is very true that it is easy for students to get distracted and off topic if they are given research with not enough direction. It is always best to be clear with students and provide them with key sites to use that are reliable and useful so they don’t spend ages disoriented, unsure of where to start. Microlearning is definitely a very good way of implementing e-learning, that way you have a balance of technology in a way that isn’t overwhelming, and also it encourages teachers use of tech to be simple instead of overcomplicated and lengthy


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