Despite increasing popularity of online education in many U.S. higher education institutions (Allen & Seaman, 2014), educators are faced with challenges teaching online courses and such challenges can negatively influence students’ experiences and learning. In the chart below, I share a few common challenges related to online teaching and ideas to address such challenges, as outlined in a recent article (Kebritchi, Lipschuetz, & Santiague, 2017). I hope your process of scanning this list will affirm what you are doing well and provide a new idea (or two) to try with your online courses.


Solutions / Ideas

Learners may have inappropriate expectations (e.g., expecting instant feedback)

(p. 8)

Clearly communicate expectations, policies, and routines (e.g., describe a reasonable wait-time for feedback, estimated # hours learners can anticipate needing to spend on work each week, the role of the instructor versus student in an online setting, etc.)


Learners’ readiness to participate in an online course varies

(p. 8-9)

Clarify aspects of online-class readiness, including:

·      Necessary technical skills that will be required (use computer, Internet, Google Drive, Word, Google Hangout, etc.),

·      Attitude with which you expect them to approach the course (“this may be challenging, but I can do it” attitude), and

·      Time management skills they will need to rely upon and develop (e.g., give tips to help them schedule blocks of time each week when they will complete online asks as if they were meeting for an in-person class; help them set up a Google calendar with alerts to keep track of due dates).


Learners may feel isolated and disconnected

(p. 9, 21)

·      Offer peer and/or group work

·      Connect with your students in different ways throughout the semester (e.g., via a professional Twitter account, text/calls)

·      Small-group discussions or office hours in a synchronous face-to-face formats (e.g., Google Hangout, Blackboard Collaborate)

·      Check in with students on a daily or weekly basis to help build community and keep students engaged in class (e.g., announcements, Google calendar assignment alerts)


Learners need to be actively engaged

(p. 10, 13)

Include a mix of media and multiple types of learning approaches, such as:

·      Audio (e.g., podcasts)

·      Videos (e.g., Teaching channel, TeacherTube, your own videos)

·      Discussions

·      Various forms of text (e.g., articles, blogs)

·      Ongoing assessment in different ways (with clear assessment/rubric criteria)

·      Meaningful feedback

·      Reflection activities

·      Collaboration with peers

One assignment description is often not enough; clarity of assignment instructions is necessary

(p. 14)

While striving to very clearly relay assignment expectations and procedures in your syllabus and on Blackboard, send announcements before assignments are due to offer further clarification, or consider creating FAQs
The “bells and whistles” of technology tools do not necessarily provide the best outcome for student learning

(p. 18)

Start by thinking about content and students’ needs first. What do your students need to know? Then, think about the best approaches to teach the content. Strive for meaningful use of technology and tools that promote student engagement.

The SAMR Model can help you evaluate technology used with students. Here is a short video explaining SAMR Model.

A common criticism I hear from educators of online courses is a lack of connection with students. “The instructor’s ability to communicate, form community, and deliver the appropriate lesson effectively makes all the difference in student learning outcomes” (Kebritchi et al., 2017, p. 19). Interacting with learners on a human level­–by establishing a relationship with students, forming a classroom community, and connecting with them in various ways–can help them (and you) feel connected, and drive their engagement in class.


Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2014). Grade change: Tracking online education in the United States. Newburyport, MA: Sloan Consortium.

Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. (2017). Issues and challenges for teaching successful online courses in higher education: A literature review. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 46(1), 4-29. doi: 10.1177/0047239516661713

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