What Are the Disadvantages of Online Schooling for Higher Education?

Today, online schooling for higher education is prevalent across many fields. While there are several benefits to online schooling, such as flexibility and convenience, there are also real and perceived disadvantages. Explore some of the potential drawbacks of online learning.

Online Schooling

In 2012, about a quarter of undergraduate college students were enrolled in distance education courses as part -- if not all -- of their studies, according to a 2014 report from the National Center for Education Statistics. That same data found that 29.8% of graduate students in this country are enrolled in some or all distance learning classes as well. A 2013 report from Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC, pointed out that approximately 86.5% of higher education institutions offer distance learning classes. Clearly, online schooling is commonplace.

Disadvantages: Student Perspective

Despite advantages, online schooling is not the right fit for every student. Taking online courses is generally believed to require more self-discipline than completing a degree on campus, a belief that is supported by SCHEV -- the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Because online schooling options often allow students to complete much of the coursework at their own pace, students must be motivated to stay on schedule and manage their time accordingly. Other potential disadvantages from a student's viewpoint may include the following:

Less Instructional Support

  • Although instructors are available to students via e-mail, telephone, Web discussion boards and other online means, some students may see the lack of face-to-face interaction and one-on-one instruction as a challenge.
  • A lack of communication or miscommunication between instructors and students may frustrate students who are struggling with course materials. That could be exacerbated by the casual nature of e-mail communications.

Issues with Required Skills

  • Because students are primarily learning independently and submitting assignments virtually, coursework is heavily dependent on reading and writing. This may be discouraging to those who lack solid written communication skills or who prefer audio-visual or hands-on training.
  • A lack of access to the appropriate technology may exclude some students, and technical problems may discourage others. This is particularly relevant to students in rural or lower socioeconomic areas.

Lack of Quality or Variety

  • Although online schooling options have grown in recent years, there are still many fields of study -- like healthcare and engineering -- that require practical instruction and are not available fully online. Hybrid programs, which combine online schooling with on-campus components, may be an option in these cases.
  • The quality of programs may also be questioned in a discussion of the disadvantages of online schooling. Students can help avoid this issue by making sure that an online program is accredited by a legitimate agency and has a good Better Business Bureau standing, but employers in some fields may still view an online education as less valuable than a traditional degree program.

Disadvantages: Institutional Perspective

Administrators of public and private higher education institutions have also considered the disadvantages of offering online schooling. Outlined below are some of the most commonly cited perceived disadvantages of online schooling, from an institutional perspective.

Cost and Investment

  • Developing online courses requires a significant amount of time, money and resources. Institutions may be hesitant to implement an online program because it means that they will need to develop the online infrastructure, like course portals, and hire staff for issues related to tech support and student assistance.
  • Institutions may also need to invest in hiring or training faculty to teach in an online format. Many instructors are comfortable with teaching face-to-face, but need significant training in order to successfully teach an online course.

Instructional Quality

  • The effectiveness of the instructors could be a concern for administrators of online programs. Instructors who are not fully trained on how to properly implement an online course may lead to poor management of course procedures and ineffective communication with students.
  • Instructor communication and availability is an important component of online courses. If the facilitator has difficulty being available to students or creating an environment in which participation is vital, this may impact the students' feeling of engagement.


The advantages of online schooling are fairly clear; students can earn a degree according to their own schedule and often at their own pace, without incurring the costs of transportation or having to move across country to attend their chosen institution.

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