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Problems in Online Classes

by Neil Kokemuller, studioD

Online education has grown as students want convenient and flexible classes and colleges like the relatively low-cost operating structure they afford. Despite strong interest by both parties, associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College Rob Jenkins noted in a May 2011 article in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" that success rates in online courses hover around 50 percent. Online students face several problems compared to traditional course students.


Without the face-to-face interaction between the student, instructor and peers, you also remove the nonverbal gestures and facial expressions that constitute a large part of message communication. Reliance on e-mail and discussion forums for communication can lead to more misunderstandings, context errors and frustration. Students routinely have misunderstandings about assignments and instructor expectations. While they can e-mail the instructor, this takes longer and sometimes offers less clarity than in-class questions.

Self-Discipline Requirments

Jenkins noted that student success rates in traditional classes is 70 to 75 percent, significantly higher than the online course rate. A key reason for online struggles is the self-discipline required. Students in online classes don't have regular encounters with instructors who offer assignments and instructions. They also don't have as much regular face-to-face interaction with peers who can help with reminders and accountability. To succeed online, a student must be organized, scheduled and diligent in completing reading and assignments.


Students in traditional classes often struggle with team activities and projects because of variance in student goals and personality types. Teamwork difficulty is heightened when it takes place through electronic communication. Online course teamwork often includes e-mail conversations and discussions through forums or team rooms. This restricts the ability of students to develop personal rapport with each other. It also enhances the potential for communication problems and frustration with team members since you don't have gestures and vocal tone to help with context. Additionally, technological skills of team members vary, which can lead to some students doing more work than others.

No Class Culture

Traditional classes develop a culture similar to the way a company develops and maintains an organizational culture. This distinct atmosphere and shared communication values is inhibited online because of the lack of interpersonal contact. Students often want to feel a social connection to a class and, in the big picture, a school. While a student may succeed in the academic requirements of an online class, he may not get the networking benefits and social skill development in-class peers receive.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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