How to navigate the challenges of studying online


Online education is arguably one of the digital era’s best innovations. For working professionals especially, having the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace makes learning while pursuing a full-time career much easier. However, online learning comes with its own set of challenges, and completing an online course or degree successfully depends on the approach. 

According to a 2016 VitalStats study on higher education, 78% of students studying three-year degrees off-campus had dropped out by 2016, compared to a mere 2% dropout rate in 2012. Cynthia Olmesdahl, online strategist at Vega (a brand of The Independent Institute of Education – The IIE), says that one of the biggest reasons for this is that students don’t get the support they need to succeed during their self-study journeys. 

“Through our research, we’ve found that human interaction is essential to the learning process,” says Olmesdahl. “Support is vital to success, and students need to be guided and engaged throughout the learning process, whether they are studying on campus or from home.”

The perception that online learning can be a little ‘lonely’ is just one of the challenges many people feel they will face with online studies. Olmesdahl explains that there are many reasons that cause people to shy away from e-learning, but says that many of these issues can be prevented with the right approach.

Learn to manage your time effectively

Making time to study course material and complete assignments can be a daunting task, particularly when juggling a full-time job and family responsibilities, but it’s not impossible with the help of a little time management. 

Read through the course outline carefully, noting the deadlines for assignments, exam dates, and the outcomes that need to be achieved by the end of each module. Keeping this in mind, create a detailed deadline calendar displayed in a visible part of your home or office, to remind and motivate yourself on a daily basis. You can use free task management tools like and Easynote to keep track of everything you need to get done. Learning management systems incorporate calendar functionality for this purpose.

Do your research

Online learning can be stressful, but finding out that you’ve invested months of time, money and effort into a course that carries no legitimate weight (in terms of compliance with local and international educational standards) can be downright devastating. 

Start by investigating the reputation of the institution, and verify that the online qualifications on offer are accredited by a trusted local or international body. Schools that partner with other educational institutions around the world are also great options to pursue, as they often tailor course content to align with local and international industry trends. It’s important to check the content of the online course or degree carefully, to make sure your learnings add professional value. 

Familiarise yourself with the platform

While you shouldn’t have to be a tech whizz to navigate an online learning platform, many people may struggle with getting used to a new user interface, which is a big reason why they give up on online learning. 

Firstly, make sure you have a reliable internet connection and computer or device. Secondly, spend an hour or two exploring the platform by clicking on links and reading any material that might already be available – this helps you to quickly locate what you’re looking for at a later stage, whether it’s a chat forum, contact information for learning support, or how and where to submit your assignments digitally.

Follow these guidelines to avoid falling into the common pitfalls and misconceptions about online learning. 

Find out more about the newly-launched online IIE BA in Strategic Brand Communication, offering world-class education with support from Vega Success Navigators at every step of the way by visiting