editors choice badge Editors' Choice

10 Reasons Why eLearning Loses Students

Why Students Fail To Study Online
Summary: The article describes the 10 most common reasons why students fail to study online. This post will be helpful for eLearning website owners and anyone involved in online teaching.

Why Students Fail To Study Online

According to Class Central, there were 110 million people in the world enrolled in online courses in 2019. The number is impressive, but the question is: How many of them made it to the finish line, and how many dropped out right after registering for a course or completing the first lesson? A recent study found that of those who register for a course, 52% never even look at the courseware. Moreover, the dropout rate reaches a whopping 96% on average over five years. In this post, we’ll go through the 10 most common reasons why students fail online learning. This checklist will be useful for eLearning business owners, and anyone involved in online teaching who wants to enhance the eLearning experience for their students and grab and hold their attention to the end.

A Word On The Global Situation

During the outbreak of COVID-19 and global lockdown, distance learning (and especially eLearning) became the only feasible way of learning, which means the industry is now facing an unprecedented surge in demand.

For eLearning businesses, this situation brings great opportunities for growth as well as lots of pressure. Those who are prepared to meet and retain millions of newcomers will be able to multiply their revenues, and those who fail to respond quickly will lose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So, Are You Ready To Make The Most Out Of This Situation?

We analyzed existing studies on online education dropouts and compiled 10 factors that prevent students from completing courses in full. Let’s find out if your eLearning business is ready to provide seamless customer experience and retain most of your students.

1. Adaptation Difficulties

Since the online classroom is a new environment for many students, the first challenge is to adapt to online learning. If the platform seems too complicated, you risk losing your potential students.


Naturally, most of the responsibility for overcoming this challenge falls on the students, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help them thrive in online classes. To ease and speed up the process, you can prepare useful materials about online learning like induction training and FAQs covering the benefits of online education and providing tips on how to organize the education process more productively.

For instance, California State University Channel Islands rolled out an entire course called Learning Online 101 to assist students in adapting to online learning.

2. Wrong Expectations

The course appeared to be too difficult or too easy, too time-consuming or too theoretical—these are some faulty expectations that will lead to frustration and dropouts.


The best way to mitigate this problem is to communicate all possible information about the course:

  • The topics and lessons in the course
  • Teachers’ qualifications and experience
  • The level of training required
  • How much time learners should set aside for the course, broken down by module and assignment
  • Course objectives and outcomes
  • Skills gained after completing each module and the course in full

This won’t save us from students who don’t read the course description and then drop out because they needed something else, but at least we’ll know we’ve done our part.

3. Technical Issues

Bugs and slowdowns on the eLearning platform aren’t something that helps students be more motivated. Instead, it may force students to abandon the course. Even if your online platform has never experienced any technical issues, the spike in demand for online learning during the COVID-19 lockdown might harm your platform’s performance.

A rapid increase in traffic on your website is a huge load on your servers that can cause server outages and crashes. Another problem is speed losses for users located far from the servers.


To get rid of the technical issues and ensure a smooth eLearning experience for the students, you need to build a flexible and scalable server infrastructure by optimizing content with adaptive delivery (to ensure quality and speed on every type of device and connection) and moving it closer to the user with a content delivery network (CDN). There are two ways to do this: build your own solution or use a ready-made CDN.

4. Poor Time Management

Lack of time is one of the most common reasons why students abandon online courses. While some people indeed face unexpected personal circumstances, others simply fail to manage their time properly.


Time management is also something you can teach your students. A regular schedule planner and reminders for courses and assignments would be a great help for students who struggle with poor time management skills.

5. Problems With Motivation

There are tons of reasons why students can lose motivation—from unclear course outcomes and lack of control to feeling frustrated because of social isolation.


Although some personal motivation problems will always be outside of our control, we can do our best to make the course as engaging as possible.

  • Create a learner’s roadmap with clear milestones like gained knowledge and achievements. This path can be displayed somewhere in the student’s personal account so that they can follow their own progress and feel satisfaction getting closer to the final goal.
  • Vary the formats of content and tasks: it could be interactive training, videos, storytelling, gamified solutions, etc.
  • Form a community of students and sometimes use group work. Engagement goes up when students feel like they're a part of a group.

6. Too Much Flexibility

One of the biggest advantages of online learning is great flexibility: students can take courses at their own pace whenever and wherever they want. At the same time, when there’s too much of it, flexibility can be the biggest disadvantage too.


The solution is simple: set deadlines for each module (or at least a final deadline) and send reminders when the deadline is close. Without this, the completion rates risk being extremely low as “at any time” usually means “at no time.”

7. Lack Of Human Contact

One of the major limitations of the online learning experience is a lack of communication with classmates and teachers, which can be frustrating for some students. Moreover, studies show that social engagement and community components make students five times more engaged and 16 times more likely to finish the course.


According to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, people learn best by observing others and interacting with others. They acquire new knowledge and skills by watching others’ behavior and attitude, and related outcomes. Though online learning implies certain limitations to this approach, we should do our best to create as many possibilities of interaction within the online world as we can.

It could be group work, webinars, forums, friendly competitions, debates, or discussion boards where students can work together with their classmates and teachers and learn from each other.

8. Too Bulky Chunks Of Information

It’s a familiar situation: you need to embark on a large project, and you simply don’t know where to start. But once you break it down into smaller tasks, it becomes more approachable and doable in your eyes. The same thing is true of education: too massive and complicated modules can scare students away from the course.


That’s where microlearning comes in to save the day. It’s a learning approach that involves breaking information down into small, bite-sized learning units that students can comprehend in a short time (from 3 to 10 minutes). One unit covers one specific topic, idea, or skill. A good example of implementing this approach is TED-Ed’s short educational videos. As for the benefits, research showed that microlearning can boost course engagement by over 50%.

So maybe it’s time to go find out more about this approach and start adopting it on your eLearning platform too. Get rid of cumbersome modules and topics and provide information in small, structured units to retain more students and help them make it to the finish line.

9. Poor Student Support

When a roadblock gets in the way of a student in a traditional classroom, they can ask a teacher or discuss it with their peers. In online education, students can feel isolated without these opportunities, which is why they tend to give up when things get complicated.


Our task here is to make sure that students know where to seek help when they face problems and are comfortable asking for it. The best way to achieve this is to provide multiple options for getting support on the platform. Here are a few ideas of what it could be:

  • Create FAQ documents and a knowledge base covering most common issues students can face working on the platform (e.g., account setup, course loading problems, how to enroll in a course, what to do if you missed a deadline, etc.).
  • Offer email or instant message support for those who have uncommon questions. For instant messaging, you can use a customer support solution like Intercom.
  • Create an opportunity for students to talk to each other. It could be a social media community, a group conversation in an instant messenger or an entire forum for students like Coursera did.
  • Make sure students have access to their instructors to ask for feedback or help. It could be via chat on the platform or a survey, like Google Forms.

10. The Information Is Far From Real Life

When information students learn gets too abstract and they can’t relate it to their life, it’s easy to lose interest in the topic or the entire course.


Knowledge becomes valuable only if it can be applied. That’s why your online courses should provide hands-on information, include relevant real-life examples, integrate realistic practical scenarios, and give your students practical tasks to immediately apply gained knowledge to real problems.

This way you can build a connection between eLearning content and its practical application, and make online learning more meaningful and valuable for the students.

In a perfect world, knowledge would be available on demand: students face problems in their day-to-day work and can find specific solutions on your eLearning platform right when they need it.

Wrapping Up

We live in times of abrupt changes: some businesses have been shut down, some are on hold, and only a few now have a unique opportunity to reach their full potential.

Online learning is an industry people desperately need right now. They are ready to invest their time and money in gaining new skills and knowledge. And when they come to you, you have to be ready to give them the best learning experience possible and to make them stay with you even when the lockdown is over. By overcoming these 10 issues, you’ll get closer to this ambitious goal.