The advantages (and disadvantages) of online learning revealed

The advantages (and disadvantages) of online learning revealed


min video //

min read //

October 13, 2022

Workplace success


Adrie Smith

Head of Content

The single best investment any one person can make is in themselves. It's an accessible investment too with the wide availability of online courses and the popularity of online learning. And, like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to online learning.

More and more, people are building their careers via online learning. And it's not just on paid platforms like Coursera or Skillshare. Many motivated people are going to YouTube and learning skills from real experts—for free.

But just because online education is only a few clicks away doesn't mean it's easy.

Only 3% of people who start online courses ultimately complete them. (Talk about a low score for online learning!) The low completion rate is an indicator, though, that many people enter their online learning journey with at least one of the following and miss asking themselves these critical questions:

  • Poor information: Do I know what this course is all about and what it will require of me?
  • The wrong intention: Do I know what I want to get out of this course?
  • Unclear expectations: Am I ready to participate in everything this course offers?
  • Low motivation: Do I know how this course content will help me improve my career/skills?

Ultimately, failure to reflect on one of these questions increases the likelihood that a student drops out, stops attending, or shuts their laptop (forever) on the course.

But that doesn't mean that they're not worthwhile. Students drop out of courses (this could have even been you at some point!), yet they continue to come back to online learning.

So how can you make your investment in yourself worthwhile? Keep reading because we'll cover the following areas to set you up for online learning success in this article series.

  1. Pros and cons of online learning (that's this article!)
  2. Choosing your online course
  3. Preparing for your online course
  4. Getting the most out of your online course

Let's dive in!

Advantages and disadvantages of online learning

Alright, so what's the deal here? Why do online courses remain so popular, even though most people never finish their selected course?

As we already mentioned, people miss critical information about the course or may forget to ask themselves enough questions regarding their intentions, expectations, and motivations. But they also may be considering all of the advantages of online learning without any disadvantages.

So let's review those, shall we?

6 advantages of online learning

There's a reason why online learning has stuck since its widespread implementation during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while some courses may offer specific advantages, here are the most common ones.

1. Flexibility

I can study whenever, wherever!

You have the power to create your schedule and learn from wherever's most convenient for you. How great is that?

2. No commute

I don't have to travel across town for class.

If you can study from wherever you like, you're usually cutting out a commute to class. For some, that can mean massive savings on gas, bus fare, or taxi fare, depending on where you live.

3. Access to prestigious institutions

I have more (great!) options!

Before, if you wanted to get a certification from Harvard University, it usually meant that you'd have to attend university classes physically. No longer! Great, well-known universities are now accessible to ambitious students worldwide. Additionally, in regions where the university system is not as strong, students are presented with more options for their studies without needing relocation.

4. Affordability

It's cheaper than studying in person.

While there's certainly a range of prices, online courses are more affordable than their in-person counterparts. Organizations can offer more affordable courses by cutting the costs of in-person teaching and enabling larger classes (in many cases).

5. Broader global perspective

I have classmates from all over the place!

Online learning removes the location requirement. This means you may have classmates from other cities, countries, and continents. You'll learn to work with people from all backgrounds. This is an excellent asset if you're building an international career.

6. Remote skills development

I'm better than ever at doing things online.

You'll need to develop the right skills to work online during an online course. That means developing the following:

  • Effective online communication
  • Online etiquette
  • Knowledge of collaborative online tools
  • Self-discipline
  • Healthy work/study routines
  • Time management

With all of those benefits, it's no wonder that many students are turning to online learning over in-person or traditional classroom settings. But why do so many students drop out or not complete their courses?

5 disadvantages of online learning

Online learning is no easy feat. So what is it that makes it so challenging?

1. Reliance on screens

I hate spending so much time staring at screens.

It's undeniable that you'll spend a lot more time using screens with online learning. This can strain your eyesight and physical health (you gotta give those eyes a break from time to time!). Of course, you can avoid eye strain with a few off-screen learning techniques, but you'll have to be prepared to get comfortable in front of a screen.

2. Distractions

It's hard to stay focused when I can browse other websites/apps on my laptop.

We all know the feeling of opening up a laptop and ending up on a social networking site (hello, Facebook!) or deep on a Reddit thread you never knew you needed to follow. But that's not helpful when you need to join a class meeting or follow up on some homework. And, if you're studying from home, no one will keep you on task and from going through the fridge for snacks every 10 minutes.

3. Isolation

I feel like I don't know my classmates.

Studying from home can feel great, but that comfort becomes less beneficial when you go days without physically seeing any of your new classmates, especially if you're in an asynchronous course. People are social creatures, and, unfortunately, many online learning environments don't fully cater to this aspect. It can feel hard to get to know some of your classmates, let alone learn from them.

4. Technology issues

I've been waiting for this screen to load for hours!

Undoubtedly, you've experienced the video conferencing "Can you hear me?/You're muted." standoff. By nature, online learning relies on technology. And when that doesn't work—whether it's internet connectivity, a buggy app, or user error—learning becomes more complicated, if not impossible.

5. Quality

The course content was not helpful.

Online learning has popped off over the last few years. And with so many courses on the market, there's very little quality control over what's available to the public. Not all courses are created equal (we'll talk about this later!), but it's up to the students themselves to determine what will be a good investment of their time and (sometimes) money.

You might be looking at this list already, thinking that, with such a low completion rate and so many challenges, online learning maybe just isn't for me. Well, we're here to convince you that that doesn't have to be the case!

There are many ways of conquering—if not lessening the impact of—the challenges of online learning to harness all of the benefits fully.

Are you ready to embrace the advantages and conquer the disadvantages of online learning? We'll then keep going to our next article on selecting your online course!

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