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September 26, 2009 / compassioninpolitics

Challenges and Disadvantages of E-learning and Distance Learning

Challenges and Disadvantages of E-learning and Distance Learning

Higher Education e-learning and high school virtual schooling is currently broken. Here are some of the challenges (and ultimately opportunities) that I see in the distance learning and e-learning literature as I’ve reviewed it. The question becomes…can high school and higher ed e-learning meet the task?

1) Lack of customization to student’s interest (also length instead of modules)
2) Lack of student motivation
3) Lack of personal community and connection (not blended learning)
4) Its a banking model of education (which is partially inevitable)
5) Not experientially based–its simulation based at best
6) Not necessary based on the best science regarding How People Learn
7) Lack of quality assessment and feedback, which hinders learning.
8] Mostly disconnected to the needs of employers, which means its disconnected from the desires of students and parents. (this may be the largest criticism)
9) Some self-directed learners is sometimes too random and has no process (its too loosely joined–sometimes you need a bridge or a path). Also, some is subject to quality issues. The learner has to self-analyze content without requisite knowledge or criteria (its authority 2.0).
10) Lack of certification (or assessment) for self-directed learning.
11) Tech, toys, and teaching over learning.
11) Focus on memorization over learning core competencies.
12) Time resources at a minimum (Tradeoff w/ NCLB on the high school level. And NCLB cuts into the arts in time, funding, and resources.) But some teachers dont know how much time they have.
13) Lack of mentorship for self-learners and even some “just the facts ma’am” distance learning
14) Lack of adoption to learning style of learners. (e-learning just textbooks in drag)
15) Better aligning of incentives of teachers and learners (?)
16) Downtime + mobile as well as “play” are issues to consider as well.
17) Lack of digital literacy and keeping up with the pace of change
18) Digital divide short circuits improvement
19) Best practice coordination is distributed instead of centralized (in terms of teaching and technology)
20) Content is distributed instead of centralized ( and Open Course Consortium are the exception)
21) No ranking, evaluation of current modules.
22) Underutilized talents and facilities
23) No way to ground social networking and web 2.0 tools
24) Slow transition to innovation (Crossing the Chasm: early adopters vs. mainstream vs. laggards)
25) No reverse engineering of career paths and career skill sets. (or very, very minimal)
26) Cost of higher ed and e-learning options. Most still seem to be 75 to 95% of bricks and mortar cost.
27) On the career and HR front generic knowledge stands in for industry specific knowledge and expertise. This is especially damaging in the humanities–which means they will likely lose funding, resources, programs, and professors.
28) Students lack passion for life long learning.
29) Lack of boundary spanners in education and business . No one in the gap.
30) Lack of career center employees means you have to scale their knowledge efficiently or get a strategic lever to add on top of what they already offer. (specifically on industry specific and network specific)

Consequently, the school to job area represents a rather large gap–as does the city specific info for moving and getting settled. On top of this Alumni networks range from good to bad–and you have creative centers which means geography or the spikiness of cities comes into play with Flat Earth fantasies. And the plethora of career counselors and consultants is a hot mess (no way to evaluate–or its minimal). Alternatives to traditional career paths often aren’t explored–this is especially important given the increase in slash careers and consulting.

This ultimately is both an opportunity given the potential for disruption onlined in Christensen’s book and troubling given the dramatic increases in the e-learning space which are expected. (note: white paper download from

What do you think? What are your findings and experiences regarding e-learning challenges?

Further Exploration of Disadvantages and Challenges of E-learning
For more on the future of e-learning check out Masie’s blog or this Slideshare presentation on the issue of challenges in e-learning. Here is e-learning guru’s summary of some of the issues with regarding e-learning and distance learning. Where should high school and higher education focus to make the most change? What are the levers which will be most effective in creating large shifts in improvements in education?

If you’d like to explore more, I recommend my best articles on university 2.0 and social media in the higher ed classroom.


Leave a Comment
  1. Mark, eLearning Designer / Oct 22 2009 10:35 am

    These are some interesting challenges for the sector to tackle. I’m not sure that I agree with all of these principles but thanks anyway for the commentary.

  2. compassioninpolitics / Oct 22 2009 8:14 pm

    Thanks Mark. Which items would you take issue with??

    Here is a report on online learning which may be helpful in this quest moving forward:

    In addition, these findings from Blackboard are interesting for those in elementary and middle school e-learning:

    Despite widespread interest, there are still few opportunities for students to actually participate in online learning. According to the survey, more than 40 percent of 6-12th graders have researched or
    demonstrated interest in taking a course online, but only 10 percent have actually taken an online course through their school. Meanwhile, comparable percentages of middle school students (7 percent) and high school students (4 percent) have instead pursued opportunities outside their school to take online courses, underscoring the disconnect between the supply and demand of online learning in today’s classrooms.

    Meanwhile, a majority of school principals, 58 percent, say that online classes currently offered in their districts are primarily for teachers; while only 31 percent say the classes are primarily for students. Additionally, while a full one-third of teachers have taken an online course for professional development – a 57 percent increase from since 2007 – just 3 percent of teachers surveyed report they have taught a class online, a number that has not changed in three years. Just 13 percent are interested in teaching online, a considerable mismatch with the growing student desire to learn online.

  3. compassioninpolitics / Sep 22 2010 8:18 pm

    The main truth above that I would look into in the e-learning space is the lack of application. The literature and science behind experiential learning is robust and growing.

    Using e-learning or distance learning in a blended learning scenario (where some of the learning takes place face to face) may be the optimum use of resources. Obviously given the scarce resources of many institutions this may create challenges–but my understanding of the literature seems to suggest.

    Given the above, it makes sense to investigate blending learning opportunities and providers. Two caveats–you may already have the resources to create the 2nd half of the blend. Additionally, not all learning activities require a blend, however as a general rule it makes the most business and human development sense.


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