Problems of a Student New to Online Learning


Internet technologies have become an essential tool in many fields, including education. The development of various massive open online courses (MOOCs), as well as implementing e-learning instruments in higher education, have enabled people to get access to a vast amount of learning opportunities. However, even though the instructional materials are nowadays more available than ever, students have several problems hindering them from making the most of their online education. Common challenges include computer illiteracy and technical issues, isolation from peers, procrastination, lack of self-motivation, and misconception of cognitive load (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019; Bawa, 2016; García, Tenorio, & Ramírez, 2015; Gillett-Swan, 2017; Goda et al., 2015; You, 2015). The objectives of this paper are to provide the background of e-learning, review the recent literature on this topic, and discuss the most critical problems faced by students studying online.


The Internet is a revolutionary invention that has influenced the way people learn, among other things. According to García et al. (2015), at the end of the previous century, “courses, resources, and materials, as well as institutions’ scientific and academic production, were rarely open” (p. 93). However, at present, students have access to electronic libraries and academic databases and can get remote support from their instructors or peers.

Since e-learning is a relatively new format of education, numerous researchers try to investigate the problems preventing individuals from fulfilling their full potential during their online studies. It has been found that 40% to 80% of students studying online leave their courses (Bawa, 2016). The research-based on a MOOC by a Mexican university showed that only 5% of 20,400 enrolled people remained active (García et al., 2015). Furthermore, it has been discovered that web pages containing course materials are visited unevenly throughout an academic year, with the heaviest load falling on the day before an examination (You, 2015). Thus, it is crucial to figure out why some students fail to do well in their online studies to improve their retention rates.

Literature Review

The problems that a student unfamiliar with online learning encounters can be easily discovered in circumstances when this kind of education is at the stage of adoption. Alkhawaja and Halim (2019) studied the issues hampering the implementation of e-learning in higher education institutions in Jordan. In this Asian country, such a type of education is not as common as in the western world because information technologies were introduced there later.

Apart from governmental and teaching challenges, the study explored the problems of students not familiar with online learning. First, individuals encounter technical issues due to “low bandwidth or the weak internet connection” (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019, p. 492). Secondly, students experience an adaptability struggle, which means that it is difficult for them to adapt to a new learning environment that is different from traditional classrooms (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019). The third problem is computer illiteracy, meaning that learners have no practice in handling files or specific programs necessary for online education (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019). Fourthly, a lack of time management skills hinders students from submitting their tasks in time (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019). Finally, individuals may lack self-motivation due to their inability to handle technical issues and get timely support (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019). After all, researchers stated that students might be more favorable to e-learning if they could navigate course web pages and programs easily and obtain the necessary assistance in case of trouble (Alkhawaja & Halim, 2019). Thus, the transition to online education may be complicated for people new to it.

Some researchers pay attention to studying particular problems faced by online learners. You (2015) focused on the issue related to time management, namely procrastination. The researcher stated that students were prone to delay the completion of their tasks because they did not keep to a strict class schedule (You, 2015). Furthermore, online learning requires more intrinsic motivation than traditional education (You, 2015). Since the regularity of studying has a larger impact on succeeding in studies than the amount of time devoted to mastering the material, procrastination leads to another problem of online learners, which is poor academic achievements (You, 2015). Consequently, students getting an education through the Internet experience difficulties distributing their workload, which may prevent them from performing well.

Procrastination in e-learning has drawn other scientists’ attention as well. The study by Goda et al. (2015) focused on the outcomes of this problem and determined learning behavior types that are the most and the least subject to postponing tasks. Based on the way students master their course materials, the researchers distinguished seven learning behavior types, including “procrastination, learning habit, random, diminished drive, early bird, chevron, and catch-up” (Goda et al., 2015, p. 75). It has been found out that learners with such behavior types as procrastination, diminished drive, and chevron are liable to task incompletion by the deadline and even drop out (Goda et al., 2015). Therefore, such students are more likely to experience time management problems in their online learning.

The problem of isolation, absent from the traditional classroom but present in e-learning, has not been overlooked by scholars. The study by Gillett-Swan (2017) highlighted the difficulties that students had while completing group tasks and interacting with online learning systems. Since individuals have various levels of competency in the field of technologies, they may feel helpless when they need to figure out how to navigate a course program or communicate with their peers online (Gillett-Swan, 2017). Furthermore, online learners may experience a lack of real-time feedback from teachers and peers, especially if the difference in time zones is involved (Gillett-Swan, 2017). Thus, external students’ problems related to technical issues and communication should be addressed while developing e-learning programs.

High attrition rates that are characteristic of online courses have induced researchers to investigate the causes of this phenomenon. Bawa (2016) discovered that problems of students new to e-learning included misconceptions of cognitive load, social and family factors, motivation, and technological constraints. Individuals choosing to study online assume that “an online platform will be less demanding on time, will require less effort to manage workload, and will not disrupt the learners’ lifestyle” (Bawa, 2016, p. 4). Hence, when they discover that e-learning requires as much engagement as traditional education and even more self-motivation, they are likely to drop out (Bawa, 2016). Therefore, it is crucial that students have a clear conception of what they will be doing during an online course and how much time they will have to spend on it.

Since intrinsic motivation has a considerable impact on learners’ retention and academic achievements in e-learning, less self-motivated students are likely to have additional problems. García et al. (2015) explored this issue and discovered that a low level of proficiency in the language of the course made individuals spend more time on the completion of their tasks and could discourage them from proceeding with it. A lack of a teacher’s feedback because of a large number of course participants also may lead to dropout (García et al., 2015). Moreover, less self-motivated students tend to quit online learning if they cannot apply the gained knowledge in the real-life environment (García et al., 2015). These findings imply that such learners need to get assistance and external motivation to complete a course.

Results and Conclusion

The discussed studies make it possible to determine a set of problems that students new to online learning face in the course of their education. Several researchers indicated technical issues and computer illiteracy as important factors influencing learners’ ability to get access to course materials and navigating learning systems. An adaptability struggle is a problem because students have to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. Special attention was paid to the lack of time management skills leading to procrastination. Insufficient self-motivation is a common problem among online learners since they are not forced to study regularly by external circumstances. Students also experience isolation and a lack of real-time feedback. When taking up an online course, individuals unfamiliar with e-learning often underestimate the cognitive load and the amount of time necessary for completing it. Finally, students will have difficulties mastering the curriculum if their fluency in the language of the course is low.

In conclusion, the findings may be implemented in the teaching practice. Awareness of the problems that students encounter during their online learning will help teachers to enhance learners’ academic achievements and improve retention rates. For example, instructors can create a guide explaining how to navigate a course web page. To address the time management problem, they should develop a special training program or set intermediate deadlines that would prevent students from getting access to the learning materials only before an examination.


Alkhawaja, M. I., & Halim, M. S. B. A. (2019). Challenges of e-learning system adoption in Jordan higher education. International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, 9(9), 487-494.

Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions – A literature review. SAGE Open, 6(1), 1-11.

García, B. J., Tenorio, G. C., & Ramírez, M. S. (2015). Self-motivation challenges for student involvement in the open educational movement with MOOC. RUSC. Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 12(1), 91-103.

Gillett-Swan, J. (2017). The challenges of online learning: Supporting and engaging the isolated learner. Journal of Learning Design, 10(1), 20-30.

Goda, Y., Yamada, M., Kato, H., Matsuda, T., Saito, Y., & Miyagawa, H. (2015). Procrastination and other learning behavioral types in e-learning and their relationship with learning outcomes. Learning and Individual Differences, 37, 72-80.

You, J. W. (2015). Examining the effect of academic procrastination on achievement using LMS data in e-learning. Educational Technology & Society, 18(3), 64-74.