The Top 11 Disadvantages of e-learning and How To Overcome Them

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E-learning is learning which takes place electronically, most commonly on the internet. Online courses are one of the most common forms of e-learning, with an estimated worth of over $200 billion in 2021. And this worth is only set to continue to grow.

But whilst e-learning has numerous advantages, this style of learning delivery also has its disadvantages and drawbacks.

In this post, we will explore the top 11 disadvantages of e-learning and how you can overcome these potential issues.

1. Digital poverty

Digital poverty is a phrase that has become more prominent during the pandemic, but if you’re creating an online course then it’s vital that you understand what digital poverty is and what it can mean for your students.

Digital poverty is broken into two segments:

  1. Those who cannot afford the equipment to access digital services. For example, internet services, smartphones, tablets, computers etc.
  2. Those who do not have the digital skills and know-how to access digital services. This group of people may have the money and resources to have the digital equipment required to access digital services, but for one reason or another lack the information and know-how to properly use this equipment.

Both of these groups of individuals can cause problems for you. After all, if you have students contact you, you want it to be with questions about your course content and not about the technicalities of using the internet or their device.

What can I do about this?

Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do about the financial situation of your students. However, for those who struggle with technology you could:

  • Ensure that you have instructions at the beginning of your course which clearly explain to students how to use and get the most out of your course. Never assume people’s knowledge of using tech. After all, over a billion people around the world do not have a smart phone, and not everyone has grown up as a ‘digital native.’
  • Have links to the online platforms YouTube account and their knowledge bases. Or create your own knowledge base. This information can help students who are less tech-savvy to use your online course. They might also learn some new tech skills which they would likely be further grateful for!

2. Learning new software

It is inevitable that when you decide to create an online course there will be some sort of learning curve with new software. This might be from software to create videos, pdfs, or the software provided by the online course platform you decided to use.

Learning new software can be daunting, and it may make you stick to ‘safe’ software which you’ve used before or other people recommend. However, this software might not provide the functions that you want or need, and you might be missing out on something better.

What can I do about this?

  • Remember that YouTube is your friend. With millions of videos available on YouTube, you’ll be hard pushed to not find a tutorial to help you out.
  • Contact the customer support or your online course platform. It’s what they’re there for after all. Just remember that depending on the level of package you subscribed to mah depend on how quickly customer support responds to your queries.
  • Use a knowledge base. All good online course platforms will have a knowledge base and/or blog which contains tutorials and how-to guides. Take advantage of this wealth of information as it’ll be tailored for the platform which you are using.
  • Remember that no one is perfect. I was recently on some online training where the presenter used a Jam Board for the first time. Needless to say the activity went a little array as they weren’t sure how to use the software. Incidentally, we figured it out as a group and in the process, we all learned how to use Jam Boards ourselves. (Note: it’s always good practice to be able to use the software you’ll be using in teaching, but there’s nothing wrong with putting a spin on it when things go wrong!)

3. Dealing with software and technology issues

Software and technology issues are frustrating at the best of times, but are even worse when you have students contacting you for support.

Software and technology issues may occur at your end, with the student, or with your online course platform. It’s easy to get wound up, but the best thing to do when issues arise is to keep calm and logically work through the problem. Is the platform provider running an update which may temporarily impact on the access to your course? Is the student using an internet browser which isn’t compatible with the activities you’ve provided?

Most of the time, software and technology issues are easily and quickly fixed with a clear and calm approach.

What can I do about this?

  • First of all, don’t panic, especially if the issue is out of your control or out of your skills remit. Contact your online course platform’s customer support and come up with a solution for the issue.
  • Speak to the student. Is there an issue with your end or have they not got the correct settings on their computer? (I’ve had people contact me before saying that a video doesn’t work, only to find out the sound was muted on their computer!)
  • Have a clear policy in place stating the requirements of your course (ie recommended internet browser, internet connection etc) and your refund policy. This information needs to be easily accessible before the student makes a purchase. (And yes, I’ve had students purchase courses before and be disgruntled to find that they need an internet connection to use the online course they’d purchased.)

4. The Cost of set up/runnings costs

Online course platforms can often be pricey. Even those which enable you to create and sell a course for free have financial implications. This is because the sites where you can create and sell a course for free usually take a percentage of your course sales. Therefore, the service isn’t exactly free. You’re just paying for the platform in a different way.

However, some people prefer to have a percentage of their course fee taken by the platform as there is no upfront cost.

Remember, most online course platforms offer very affordable monthly plans, which, depending on the cost of your course, may only require you to sell a few courses a month to cover your costs!

Paying for online platforms largely comes down to the features you need and want for your online courses. The better the features you want, the more you’ll likely pay. In this case, free trials are your friend.

What can I do about this?

  • Take advantage of free trials and test out the platforms to find the one you like before committing to purchase.
  • Create your content ahead of time. This means having your videos, pdfs, audio files, and any other learning materials all prepped and ready so when you buy a subscription to an online course platform you don’t have the platform not doing anything whilst you produce your content.

5. E-learning Requires a lot of motivation and time management

E-learning can be a huge time saver for many, with commutes to and from a training centre and time away from the home no longer being an issue for many online course students.

However, when faced with an online course where the course content is self-led, many students can struggle with staying motivated enough to appropriately plan their time to complete their course. This can lead to frustration for students and teachers alike.

What can I do about this?

  • Suggest a timetable for students to complete the course. For example, encouraging students to complete certain modules within a certain timeframe, and in a certain sequence.
  • Have a Facebook group where course students can hold each other accountable for their learning goals.
  • Often consultations, where you check in with students via email or virtual meeting to check their progress and motivate them further.

6. You Can’t gain instant feedback from learners

With online teaching, you can’t gain instant feedback from your students as to how the course is going. What I mean by this is not the feedback gained from feedback or evaluation forms, but the unwritten feedback you see.

For example, in a traditional classroom, if you see someone reach for their mobile phone, or start gazing out of the window, you know that you’ve lost their attention. This isn’t great news, but it means that you can put steps in place to bring the person back to what they are learning.

In an online environment, this isn’t as easy. In a self-led course, students can skip parts of the course they don’t like, even though they may need the knowledge from these parts of the course.

A student may even click off the course and leave negative recommendations.

Even in online courses which involve teacher presence and live conversations over video conferencing, such as Zoom, teachers aren’t safe from students who turn their webcams off, or continue to do something else whilst participating in an online course.

What can I do about this?

  • Ensure that you have an evaluation form at the end of the module/course which students can use to feedback to you. What helps gain this feedback is setting the form so students can’t progress until they give their feedback on a certain module/course. Have your form automated on a platform such as ConverKit so it gets sent to students as soon as they finish your course.
  • Set up a Facebook group which only course students can join. Have students put their testimonials and questions in the group. This will help you see what works about your course and which sections may need more content or greater clarity.
  • Use community features within your online course platform which enable students to post comments and questions on learning modules which other students can answer.
  • Engage community features by asking students to comment on how they are finding certain aspects of the course.
  • Encourage students to write a reflection on their learning so far on a community board in your online course which others can comment on.

7. The quality of online teacher’s credentials, the course content, and the authenticity of the learning materials can be questionable

This is a biggie.

It is so easy for anyone to set up and run an online course. This is great, but it also means that there are a lot of online courses out there which aren’t worth anything. And this includes free courses.

Because it is so easy to set up an online course, it is essential for potential students to check out the credentials of the course before parting with their cash.

Equally, if you are creating an online course, you need to assure your potential students that both you and your course content are the real deal.

What can I do about this?

When putting together your own online course be sure to:

  • List your credentials on your ‘about me’ page. If you have qualifications, put these down. People will have more faith in what you are teaching if you can demonstrate your own competence.
  • If you don’t have qualifications in what you are teaching, document your experience. There are tonnes of online courses run by people without formal qualifications, but with very real and very relevant experiences. If this is you, convey this to your students.
  • Get testimonials from students and put them on your online course. This will encourage others that your course is worth the course cost.
  • If you’re a potential student looking for an online course and you aren’t sure about the person teaching, don’t be afraid to get in contact. A good online teacher will never shy away from explaining why they are the right person to teach their course.

8. Not everything can be taught online

It sounds silly, but you need to remember that not everything can be taught online.

Yes, skills can be demonstrated through videos, how to guides, and other activities, but some skills need to physically be practised under supervision.

Take a chainsawing course, for example. You might be able to teach someone to strip down and reassemble the chainsaw, and demonstrate its use via video and how-to guides, but ultimately, someone using a chainsaw for the first time will probably need some level of supervision and the opportunity to ask questions and have someone around for health and safety purposes.

Other skills which can’t fully be taught online are first aid skills. Yes, you can teach someone theory, but without seeing their practical skills in person, you cannot ensure that students have fully understood and can practice first aid skills learnt from your theory.

What can I do about this?

  • Know the limitations of the topic you are teaching. If it’s difficult to teach online, it’s probably difficult to learn online. Consider how you learnt what you are teaching yourself. Did you learn online or did you need to attend face to face training? A bit of an extreme example is learning to drive a car. Yes, you can learn the theory online, but you cannot learn to drive without sitting behind a steering wheel of an actual vehicle.
  • Provide blended learning courses. This is where students will learn theoretical aspects of a course online, and then attend face to face training to learn and practice a practical skill.
  • Don’t teach the course. This might sound a little blunt, but if your topic really cannot be taught online, there’s a reason for that. It’s better to focus on creating a course which is suited to online delivery then having loads of frustrated and upset students.

9. E-learning does not suit all learning styles

Similar to how not everything can be taught online, not everyone can learn best online either. This may be due to a range of issues, but commonly is down to the students’ learning style not matching that of the learning activities provided.

What can I do about this?

  • Educate yourself about different learning styles and the best online learning activities to suit different learning styles.
  • Identify your own learning style so as you can learn how this may influence the types of learning activities which you gravitate towards for your online course activities.

10. Social isolation is huge

When it comes to online learning, many people complete their courses in their own time.

This is great, as it means that the course can be taken around work, child care, and other activities. However, the issue with completing a course at a time suited to yourself means that other students may not be available.

This can be frustrating, especially for students who learn best when working with others.

Additionally, if students have questions, who are they supposed to ask?

Social isolation isn’t just about the content of the online course. Some people live alone, work from home, or are feeling isolated for a whole other range of reasons. Whilst your online course is accessible at any time, it’s another reason why students don’t have to leave the comfort of their living rooms. This can be great for many, but for some students, this means more hours of being alone at home.

What can I do about this?

Beating social isolation for your students is tricky. Here are some suggestions of strategies that you could implement:

  • Set up a Facebook group that only course students can join. Use the group to foster a community so students can interact with each other even when you’ve clocked off for the day.
  • Use community features within your online course platform which enable students to post comments and questions on learning modules that you can other students can answer. LearnWorlds has fantastic community features which you can include in your online school.
  • Engage community features by asking students to comment on how they are finding certain aspects of the course.
  • Encourage students to write a reflection on their learning so far on a community board in your online course that others can comment on.
  • Set up a live conference call using software such as Zoom. Set the day and time and allow students to engage with you and each other about their learning.
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11. Students aren’t necessarily learning anything

We’ve all been there. We have to take an online course only to find that we’re unmotivated to do so.

What do we do?

We skip content.

We hit the ‘next’ button, or put a video on to watch whilst we go and make a cup of tea, only to return to find the video finished.

Your students are likely to do this too. This means that your content needs to be engaging to motivate your students through.

What can I do about this?

To fix this issue, there are a few things you can do:

  • Make sure that your content is engaging and appeals to different learning styles.
  • Go through your online course before publishing. If there are any bits where you find your attention drifting, fix them. If your attention wanders, then your students’ attention will also.
  • Engage features in your online school so that learners need to complete certain tasks before moving on. This may include watching 90% of a video or completing a quiz with a certain percentage. Whilst not relevant for all courses, if you need to ensure standards are met and student learning is taking place, you may want to look into these types of features.


In this post, we’ve looked at the top 11 disadvantages of e-learning. We’ve also considered potential solutions to these disadvantages.

Whilst many solutions have been provided, it is up to you to determine which issues and disadvantages your students face most, and which solutions (if any) will be most relevant and applicable for you to implement. When implementing solutions to online learning issues, factors such as cost to you and your own capabilities also need to be taken into consideration. After all, you don’t want to fix the issues facing your students only to cause issues for yourself.

Remember, as well, there is no way that you will ever eliminate all of the issues posed by the disadvantages of e-learning. Instead, you should focus on the most prominent ones facing your course and students, and work on practical solutions in order to provide the best learning experience possible for your online students.

This post was proofread using Grammarly.

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