In addition to my doctoral studies, I'm also consulting with clients on how to implement new e-Learning mechanisms. I set up a blog to share our discussions. I'm reposting a post from this blog here as I think it captures some of the challenges I've encountered with e-Learning.
Having been a student at both an online-only and a blended program, I can relate challenges I experienced:
1) Time zones
One of the benefits often touted for e-Learning is that it removes physical barriers. Instead of geography being dead, it still presents challenges to classes with students in different time zones. If a course requires interaction or collaboration, divergent time zones can be difficult to overcome. Challenges arise not only in trying to find mutually feasible times for real-time communication (e.g. text-chats, webinars, Skype calls, etc.) but can also present challenges for asynchronous work. Depending on the extremity of students' time zones, there can be as much as a day's lag to allow for all students to receive and respond to a given message. This lag can draw out a collaborative efforts considerably.
2) Managing volume
e-Learning often relies heavily on required postings to discussion boards or blogs. With even more than a few students posting, it can making reading and responding to posts overwhelmingly time-consuming. Breaking classes into smaller teams or limiting posts to 100-300 words can help. Live chats with instructors can also present volume challenges if guidelines are not in place. One professor I had attempted to do Q&As via Skype. At first, there were no rules and students simultaneously besieged the professor and chaos naturally ensued. Even with established procedures in place, there were still students who joined late or weren’t following the conversation and asked questions already answered or off topic.
3) Presence of the instructor
The volume of postings can also affect an instructor’s ability to participate in class discussion. Instructors must either spend a sizable amount time of time reading and replying to everything or they must selectively respond. This diminished role of instructors (compared to in-person classes) combined with the lack of their physical presences can make e-Learning seem like distance education in more ways than one.
4) Learning the subject and the technology
In addition to learning the topic at hand, students using e-Learning must engage in possibly-unfamiliar technology. Some technology requires more effort to install, learn, and operate than others. Learning the full suite of options with mediating-technology can present obstacles or delays to even more technically-savvy users, let alone those new to e-Learning.
There are other challenges surrounding e-Learning (including a frequent over reliance on text-based communication and establishing student presence) but many limitations can be addressed by selecting appropriate methods and establishing suitable structures and guidelines.