Common Misconceptions of Online Learning

In order to promote student success, instructors must provide the opportunity for learners to become familiar with the method of instruction. In traditional face-to-face courses new college students often take a couple weeks to adjust to the mode of instruction and learning environment. In order to help students in this transition, instructors provide an introductory period in which they introduce themselves, lay out the learning objectives, and expectations of the students. All of this information is then restated in the form of a syllabus.

Online learning is no exception, however it suffers from several common misconceptions. Informed by these misconceptions, students often enter the virtual classroom confused and upset by the reality of their false expectations. I strongly believe that it is vital to student success for learners to understand the myths and facts about online learning before they sign up for their first online course. In this post I will discuss several common misconceptions of online learning and attempt to assist learners construct a richer understanding of the particularities of this mode of instruction.

Misconceptions about online learning:

  • Online courses are easier to complete and the quality of learning is lower than traditional face-to-face courses.
  • These misconceptions are false for several reasons
    • Online courses are designed to uphold the same academic rigor as their face-to-face counterparts.
    • The learning objectives and outcomes are the same across the various mediums.
    • One common activity for online courses is weekly discussion boards that require each student to be an active participant. Using this mode of interaction every student gets an equal opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
    • Discussion interactions in the online environment can exceed the expectations of in-person discussions because each learner has time to think more critically and formulate richer responses.
    • Online learning requires self-motivation, active and consistent engagement, and instructors often monitor student behavior on an individual level.
    • For these reasons I’ve heard several students express the opinion that online courses are actually harder to complete.
  • Less time will be required to successfully complete the course.
    • In addition to the learning outcomes being the same so will the time required to devote to the course, if not more.
    • Generally for every one-unit lecture hour add two hours of homework. So for a 3-unit course expect to spend roughly 9 hours a week on the course, and for every 5-unit course expect to spend roughly 15 hours a week on the course.
  • There won’t be any due dates and I can proceed through the course at my own pace.
    • While courses vary, most are structured in chunks or units that often open on a weekly basis and institute hard deadlines at the end of each week.
    • Review the course schedule the moment you have access to ensure the due dates are manageable for your personal schedule.
  • Because it is asynchronous I will not be required to interact or collaborate with my peers.
    • Many online courses are informed by social constructivist theory, meaning that learning can only occur when you construct meaning from interaction with your peers. As technology progresses, collaboration has become easier and easier. We now have tools within the LMS that allow you to painlessly communicate and create with your fellow classmates.
  • Persons with disabilities cannot take online courses.
    • According to the ADA all public and private institutions receiving state funding are required to provide accessible instruction to all qualified learners with disabilities. Technological advancements have aided instructors in accommodating the needs of all students.
  • I won’t have the ability to meet with the instructor.
    • Instructors meet with students both synchronously and asynchronously. With the use of phone, email, discussion boards, and video conferencing software, just to name few, instructors can meet with, and assist student in the learning process.
  • Cutting and pasting stuff from the Internet is okay because cheating is more common in online courses.
    • While plagiarism is never acceptable, there is a common misperception that cheating is more common online. Several studies show that students cheat as much in the traditional face-to-face classroom as they do online.
    • Online students are required to uphold the same institutional academic standards and face the same consequences for violating policy.
  • Every online class is the same.
    • No two classes are exactly alike and this discussion is only a broad framework for the average online course. Do not expect that every online class will be structured exactly the same, and do not skip over the introduction. Make sure to review the structure and individual agenda of each course before jumping in.


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