Is Online School Hard? Answers to Distance Learning FAQs | UMass Global (2023)

Online Learning

Is Online School Hard? Answers to Distance Learning FAQs | UMass Global (1)

Today’s typical college attendee looks a little different compared to the average scholar from decades ago. Not every student immediately chooses the university route after finishing high school. Others may start classes but end up taking a detour for one reason or another.

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For many adults, a traditional on-campus program is unrealistic due to work and parenting commitments. But the number of college students 25 and older hasrisen steadilysince the 1970s, and that may be because the higher education landscape is evolving to meet the needs of the nontraditional student.

The days of a brick-and-mortar education being the only option for college hopefuls are long gone, a fact that wasunderscored in 2020. Since the adoption of social-distancing mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of postsecondary students have found themselves taking classes exclusively online.

But if you don’t have much experience with online learning, the idea can be intimidating, and you likely have some questions. For starters, is online school harder in college? Keep reading for insight into this question and more.

5 Commonly asked questions about online courses

To address some of the concerns you might have, we spoke with a panel of distance education experts and graduates. Here are their answers to some of your most pressing questions about online learning.

1. Are online classes harder than on-campus classes?

The material covered in online courses is typically the same as that covered in on-campus courses. But if you’ve never participated in online learning, you might be wondering if you’d thrive in this kind of learning environment. The truth is it depends a little on where your strengths lie.

“Online classes may be more challenging for those with poor time management or lack of motivation,” explains Chris Lee, adjunct professor and founder ofPurpose Redeemed. “Many students, however, report online classes as being easier than, or only as difficult as, in-person classes.”

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Lee, who has taught in distance learning settings, explains that the development of virtual classesis up to the instructor and the institution. For example, some online courses areself-paced. This allows students to work on assignments according to the timeline that best fits their own needs and strengths. Keep in mind though that without strict due dates for each task, students bear more responsibility.

Like with any big undertaking, it can be helpful to focus on steps as opposed to the entire program. “If you look at your degree program as a whole, it can be very daunting,” says Michael Brantley, who graduated from UMass Global’s fully onlineBachelor of Business Administration program. But Brantley also assures aspiring students that “Taking each class at a time makes it manageable.”

2. Will I learn as much in an online course?

It’s easy to assume that the lack of face-to-face instruction can hinder online students’ overall learning outcomes. If you’re worried you may not absorb as much in an online program, consider thisU.S. Department of Educationreport that examined more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. It found that on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.

But why is online school so hard for some people and so straightforward for others? Many contend that when technology is integrated into learning models, students are more likely to remain interested in the content, stay focused on their assignments and retain the information.

3. Is it difficult to balance online learning with a busy life?

When you’regoing back to school as an adult, your priorities may be different than they were when you were fresh out of high school. Whether you’ll need tobalance full-time workand family time alongside your studies or you simply don’t want to sacrifice your social life, your plate is bound to be pretty full. But online learning could be the solution you’ve been looking for if you find a program that offers the right amount of flexibility for your life.

Elizabeth Malson, founder of online technical school U.S. Nanny Institute, explains that

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Online and self-paced programs help parents and those with irregular work hours by providing additional flexibility to classroom programs.

Online programs are also accommodating to various learning styles. Malson says this format often allows students to have more control over their experiences.

“For those who like to get ahead, they can often move forward in their program and complete requirements early,” she explains. “For students who need a deadline, they can wait until they gain the right amount of motivation to work on the program requirements.”

4. Will I be able to interact with other online students?

The convenience of learning online is hard to beat. But if you’re someone who enjoys in-class discussion, you may be worried you won’t make the same type of connections in an online environment. Take inspiration from Alexandrea Kramm, who earned herM.A. in Teachingfrom UMass Global’s online program.

“[For] two years, my life revolved around discussion boards, journals and projects,” Kramm shared in her commencement speech. She goes on to say,

As stressful as it has been at times, I feel I have become connected to the people in my online classes as we share experiences and new ideas. Allowing us to speak to our peers and hear their opinions helped shape how I teach every day.

For Kramm and many other online students, learning in a virtual classroom did not hinder the ability to form a welcoming and engaged community.

5. Will I get the support I need in an online environment?

Alessia Contino met her husband when his military assignment stationed him in Sicily, where she was born and raised. After a frustrating experience with a different school, her husband suggested UMass Global. As soon as she placed her very first phone call, Contino was met with unmatched support — something that surprised her as an international online student. She took courses while living in Europe, the Middle East and America during her four years as a student at UMass Global.

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“Studying is not easy, and we all encounter many obstacles on the way that make us think about quitting or postponing because it just seems impossible to achieve our goals most of the time,” she told her graduating class. Contino recounts that despite struggles with time zones and relocating,

Today, I am a mother, a military spouse, a foreigner, and I am also a student who succeeded.

Kramm also spoke highly of the quality of supportoffered at UMass Global, stating that no matter what kind of question or concern she had, she had access to knowledgeable counselors, professors and tech staff who were happy to help.

Is online learning right for you?

As you continue to weigh going back to school, you might start to think more seriously about taking online classes. They can provide the flexibility you need without sacrificing the quality of your learning. Watch what to expect as an online student at UMass Global.

Are online classes hard? As with any college program, you can expect the course material to be challenging and push you to become more knowledgeable in your chosen field. But in a quality online program, the virtual learning aspect shouldn’t add any difficulty. That’s why it’s important to do your research up front.

UMass Global’s flexible and student-centered learning format was created with adult learners like you in mind. Our online degree programsoffer enriching educational experiences that fit your busy life.

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Learn more about our 20+ year tradition of offering transformational distance education by reading our article “5 Ways UMass Global stands out as a leader in online education.”


What is the most difficult thing about distance learning? ›

Having a time management system is perhaps the most difficult challenge for students to overcome because it depends entirely on self-motivation. Students need to be serious about their education, learn how to manage time, set their daily schedule, and study despite constant distractions.

Why Online distance learning is difficult? ›

One of the major limitations of the online learning experience is a lack of communication with classmates and teachers, which can be frustrating for some students. Moreover, studies show that social engagement and community components make students five times more engaged and 16 times more likely to finish the course.

What are the challenges of students in online distance learning? ›

Lack of Instant Communication

In an in-person setting, communication happens instantaneously, making it easy for students to get answers and clarify points of confusion. In an e-learning setting, communication is often asynchronous, which means there's a gap between teacher and student.

What is the biggest problem with online school? ›

Technical Issues.

Many students are not provided with the high bandwidth or the strong internet connection that online courses require, and thus fail to catch up with their virtual classmates: Their weak monitors make it hard to follow the Course Management System and their learning experience becomes problematic.

What has been the difficult part about online learning? ›

It is obvious that through online learning there is a huge loss of social contact. But we are not just talking about chatting with peers. There is also a loss of teacher-to-student social interaction. This can be particularly difficult for students who have become accustomed to their teachers' presence.

Is online school harder than in person? ›

Many students, however, report online classes as being easier than, or only as difficult as, in-person classes.” Lee, who has taught in distance learning settings, explains that the development of virtual classes is up to the instructor and the institution. For example, some online courses are self-paced.

How difficult or easy is it to use the distance learning? ›

Distance learning is very flexible.

Distance learning programs are not easy or automatic, so lazy students will probably not successfully complete courses they enroll in. However, even students that are busy or have numerous responsibilities should find the time to study because of the flexibility of these programs.

What are the factors affecting students in distance learning? ›

Studies have proven that factors in TAM such as perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness positively impact student learning outcomes.
  • 2.1. Perceived Ease of Use. ...
  • 2.2. Perceived Usefulness. ...
  • 2.3. Faculty Capacity. ...
  • 2.4. Course Content. ...
  • 2.5. Course Design. ...
  • 2.6. Learner Characteristics.

How did distance learning affect students? ›

In their newest findings, they share that families reported a rise in temper tantrums, anxiety, and a poor ability to manage emotions, especially among the young elementary-aged children during remote learning.

How do students feel about online learning? ›

A follow-up survey of students' experiences suggests that online students had trouble concentrating on their coursework and felt less connected to both their peers and instructors relative to their in-person peers. Cacault et al. (2021) also use an RCT to assess the effects of online lectures in a Swiss university.

What is the biggest challenge faced by students today? ›

The Top Three Challenges Students Face
  • Financial. Most students can't write a personal check or dip into a savings account to pay for tuition, books, and other educational expenses. ...
  • Managing Commitments. Balancing work, school, and family is another major challenge students face. ...
  • Academic Preparedness.
14 Feb 2022

Is online class more stressful? ›

The results of this study showed that COVID-19-induced online learning had a negative impact on the mental health of university students in terms of perceived stress, which was reported as moderate to high by 96.9% of the respondents.

Is online learning harder than face to face? ›

The Advantages of Face to Face Learning in the Classroom

You'll be able to concentrate harder on your learning because there'll be less distraction than if you were at home. You may feel more comfortable and learn more easily in a familiar, traditional classroom situation.

Are students doing better or worse in online school? ›

The results are generally consistent with past research: Online coursework generally yields worse student performance than in-person coursework. The negative effects of online course-taking are particularly pronounced for less-academically prepared students and for students pursuing bachelor's degrees.

What are the problem faced by the students and parents during distance learning? ›

On the other hand, parents face various challenges from distance learning in terms of the virtual setting; delivery of instruction; unsatisfactory learning outcomes; struggle with the use and availability of technology; personal problems on health, stress, and learning style of their child; as well as financial ...

What were the biggest challenges you had to face as a distance learning education student? ›

(2020) found in their research that the lack of knowledge, skills and devices, internet connection, irrelevance and issues with system access were the problems experienced by teachers and students in the Covid-19 pandemic. The third of the themes revealed at the end of the study was impossibility.

What are the common problems faced by students in modular distance learning? ›

7 Challenges of Modular Learning to Students and Proposed Solutions
  • Inability to submit on time. ...
  • Difficulty in reading and comprehension. ...
  • Personal Teenage Problems. ...
  • Poor Wi-Fi Connections. ...
  • Inability of parents to assist in the modules. ...
  • Inability to Comprehend the Lessons. ...
  • Game addiction among students.
14 May 2022

What are the common problems of distance learning? ›

The result of the content analysis revealed the following categories of difficulties in remote learning: unstable internet connectivity; inadequate learning resources; electric power interruptions; vague learning contents; overloaded lesson activities; limited teacher scaffolds; poor peer communication; conflict with ...

Are students struggling with distance learning? ›

Decades of research demonstrate that online learning can be challenging for students for many reasons. This large body of research also suggests that developing high-quality online learning involves three key factors: the fundamentals of high-quality learning such as engagement and interaction.

How does distance learning affect your life? ›

Impacts include the lack of efficiency of technology, the difficulty for pupils to understand the concepts taught, and online learning causes social isolation and results in pupils not developing the necessary communication skills.

Why do students feel stressed in online learning? ›

The students also need to adapt with extra internet data because online class requires a lot of internet data. Besides, assignment and homework workload also be the factor that leads to stress. The students need to complete the assignment and homework on time.

How effective is online learning? ›

Students Gain More Knowledge Than In Standard Classes

Because online courses provide students with full control over their studies, they can work at their own pace. Pupils, on average, work faster and absorb more information in online courses than they would otherwise.

Do students learn better online or in person? ›

Scientists looking at the effectiveness of distance learning found that in some studies, distance education students performed slightly better in exams and grades than traditional classroom students, but that overall the average performance outcomes weren't that different.

What are the disadvantages of online classes? ›

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses
  • Online courses require more time than on-campus classes. ...
  • Online courses make it easier to procrastinate. ...
  • Online courses require good time-management skills. ...
  • Online courses may create a sense of isolation. ...
  • Online courses allow you to be more independent.

How do you overcome the challenges of distance learning? ›

8 Ways to Overcome the Challenges of Distance Learning
  1. Apply for Independent Grants. ...
  2. Meet All Needs. ...
  3. Schedule Guest Appearances. ...
  4. Celebrate Success. ...
  5. Stay Connected. ...
  6. Find the Fun. ...
  7. Capitalize on Digital Tools. ...
  8. Collaborate.

What has been the hardest part about modular distance learning? ›

The hardest part about distance learning are the constant distractions around you.

What was the most challenging aspect of distance modular learning? ›

One of the biggest challenges of distance learning was trying to meet the needs of all of your students. In any given classroom there is such a wide range of readiness levels, language levels, and backgrounds.

What is the most common challenge for students in online classes? ›

Abundant Distractions, Lack of Discipline

Most students find learning online boring and often complain of lacking the motivation to make it through a class. Even teachers often complain of a lack of tools to make the classes engaging, leading to a loss of interest from both parties.

How are students being affected by distance learning? ›

Excessive time on screens has been linked to anxiety and depression. It is also much more difficult for teachers to reach out to their students if they are having trouble, and they have to deal with bugs in online learning systems as well.

What is the impact of online learning to students? ›

A lack of face-to-face interaction with the instructors or other peers inhibits student feedback, causes social isolation, and may lead to students feeling unmotivated since there is no sense of pressure from the teacher.

How did you overcome the difficulties in distance learning? ›

Make Use of Communication Platforms. Communication is the backbone of all virtual learning curriculums. Keep in mind that all assignments will be handled online, meetings are done on video, and all lessons are virtual. If your child misses one unit, they will have a hard time catching up with other students.


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