Online College Classes Are More Challenging Than In-Person College Classes

With the ravaging effects of the covid-19 pandemic, many American college students, just like the rest of the world, have been forced to transition to virtual learning, a change for many learners who are used to in-person classes. Many colleges and universities have also announced that they will continue to integrate online learning in the future. Besides, online courses have been expanding rapidly over the past few years, even before the covid-19 pandemic, and have the potential to outspread educational openings to students least served by the traditional in-person learning programs. In 2019, approximately 17.6% of college and university learners in the US were taking full distance education, and a further 19.7% were pursuing at least some online classes. About 32% of students registered in public higher education institutions pursued at least one online learning course in 2020 against 13% in private institutions (Duffin, 2021). However, despite the rapid growth in online learning, study shows that the current online learning design is challenging for least prepared learners. In a recent survey on college students’ reaction as of April 2020, about 77% of the 800 students polled felt that online learning is more challenging than in-person classes (Zufarova & Shakirova, 2020). Online college classes require more time than in-person classes, create a sense of isolation, significantly reduce performance for low to middle achiever students, and increase dropout probability.


Believe it or not, online courses require more time to study and complete assignments than in an in-person course, according to most learners interviewed. How is that possible? The online class setting is text-based, implying that communication among students and instructors requires typing a message and posting responses. You communicate using your fingers, which is slower than speaking. Besides, reading and understanding lecture materials alone require more effort than listening to the instructor, where learners can seek clarification (Zufarova & Shakirova, 2020). Students will learn more online, but they must make a more significant effort to achieve that learning.

Online classes have also been associated with creating a sense of isolation, which discourages the learning process. In an online course, you are alone, and that causes distress to many online learners. Studying alone where the computer is the only companion is a terrifying time. Imagine no student whispering, encouraging and wise remarks, and no commanding presence from the lecturer pleading with the class to listen or submit assignments on time, which is a different atmosphere that learners take time to adapt to. Such a sense of isolation might discourage learning, particularly for technical subjects such as sciences (Zufarova & Shakirova, 2020). You can only get through such a setting if you have a sensitive instructor to help you overcome the isolation.

Online courses significantly reduce performance for low to middle achiever students and increase the chances of school dropout. Researchers have argued that online learning reduces students’ grades by at least 0.44 points on the standard four-point grading scale and about 0.33 standard deviation decline compared to taking in-person classes. Students in on-campus courses earn an average B-grade (2.8 points) compared to C-grade (2.4 points) for online courses. Besides, transitioning to online class reduces the learner’s GPA by 0.15 points the following term for the same subject, indicating that students learn less in online environments. Besides, after transitioning to online classes, students are 9% more likely to drop out in one semester (Bettinger & Loeb, 2017). The adverse impacts of online courses focus primarily on low-performing students, and more research is needed for high achievers.

Online learning for college and university students is rapidly expanding, particularly with the new norms brought by the covid-19 pandemic. Many colleges and universities are also integrating online learning into their programs. However, according to research, online learning requires more time, creates a sense of isolation, and reduces student performance.  


Bettinger, E., & Loeb, S. (2017). Promises and Pitfalls of Online Education. Evidence Speaks Reports, Vol 2,# 15. Center on Children and Families at Brookings.

Duffin, E. (2021 May). Percentage of students in the United States taking distance learning courses from 2012 to 2019. Statista.

Zufarova, N. G., & Shakirova, D. (2020). Remote Education Increases Competitive Environment of Tertiary Education in the Republic of Uzbekistan. Economics and Innovative Technologies2020(4), 5.