The Top Challenges of Distance Learning & How to Overcome Them

Making friends, buying textbooks and completing reading after reading on top of taking labs, lectures, and trips to the library: this is university on a normal day. As if it wasn’t hard enough, having to do it online adds a whole other layer of complexity.
Below are five challenges you may face as you embark on a semester that’s partially or entirely online.
Set yourself up for success by knowing what to expect and how to navigate the ups and downs.


One of the most common challenges in a distance learning program is staying focused. It’s just easier to get distracted in a space that holds your bed, TV and video games. If you can’t escape to the library with your friends, how are you supposed to get any real work done?
One of the best tips for staying focused in an online class is to have some accountability. At school, you may have lived with a roommate or befriended a classmate who knew your schedule or was aware of when you had a test coming up. Now, you’ll have to do a bit more legwork to get people involved in what you’re doing.
Reach out to others in your class forum and see if someone wants to set up a regular video study call. Make friends in a Christian group or club that’s connecting online. Put a list of your upcoming due dates on the fridge so your family can track with you.
It’s often much more motivating to do things together, so find a couple of study buddies and help one another succeed.

Time Management

Time management skills are hard to cultivate even when things are normal. But when you’re learning online, suddenly you can pop into the kitchen for a snack during class time. You can get caught up reorganizing your room when you should be prepping for a test. You can sleep an extra hour each morning because you don’t have to commute to campus.

– Getting Organized

One of the best time management tips is to get yourself organized as soon as possible. Once you have your course syllabi, print out a calendar and write down all of your due dates. Then, work backwards to see how long you may need for each assignment or test.
If you know it’ll take you about seven days to read that novel for English class, make a note to start reading it nine days before it’s due. That gives you a little wiggle room in case other things come up or take longer unexpectedly.

– Sticking to a Schedule

Write the start and due dates for all of your assignments and then craft your schedule from there. When are you going to do that reading? When are you going to be in class? When are you going to take a break and get some exercise?
Sticking to a schedule can feel limiting, but having more structure in place is especially helpful when
you’re learning online. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to have no structure, which means you most likely
won’t be using your time well.


It may seem like technology makes it easier to connect and communicate with others, but the truth is that it’s also easy to forget to do it to busy yourself with other things instead. Video call fatigue and eye strain are also real side-effects of spending so much time online, which can make the prospect of further virtual hangouts unappealing.
But communicating effectively in this season is really important.
While your opportunities for face-to-face gatherings are limited, prioritize other means of communicating and connecting. Take part in video “office hours” with your prof or a video call study group with your peers. Contribute to forum discussions and email your TAs regularly.
Make sure to double-check your emails (especially when you’re tired or frustrated) to make sure your tone is still polite and friendly. If you get an email or message that seems short or negative, give the sender the benefit of the doubt and calmly ask for clarification. Without nonverbal cues and the benefit of seeing people in person, clear, effective communication can be challenging.
But as you complete your semester from a distance, every little bit of positive communication will make a difference.

Take Things in Stride

You may adapt to online classes in a flash. Or, you may find the days dragging on and long for the next time you’ll be able to sit in real lecture hall. Either way, don’t be surprised if you hit a few roadblocks this term. Adjusting to and operating in a fully-remote learning environment takes some getting used to.
If you want to know how to feel more connected to your campus while you learn from home, check out this blog.


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