Interest in online learning climbing quickly, but students still have concerns

“Even for students who are used to learning outside of the classroom, this complete shift to online learning can be challenging””


In response to the worldwide quarantine against coronavirus, higher education institutions are acting fast to offer their courses online. But does this increased demand mean that students are satisfied with their online learning experience?

Higher education search and comparison site wanted to find out. They surveyed over 7,400 current and prospective international university students and asked them about their thoughts on online learning.  The results indicated a clear upswing in interest in online learning but revealed student concerns about the implications of a fully virtual university experience. 

Online learning surges in popularity

The world has responded swiftly to the coronavirus outbreak, and so too have universities and students. 85.1% of current international students answered that they are taking online courses due to COVID-19. A significant percentage of prospective students are also considering online learning: 45.2% answered that they are interested in studying an online degree due to COVID-19.

This indicates that students are currently taking or seriously considering online courses, but the survey also revealed some student concerns regarding online learning:

Students’ concerns regarding online learning

Current students taking online classes were asked about their experience so far, and they gave it an average rating of 2.9 out of 5. In contrast, a previous survey we conducted of students currently studying abroad gave their experience a rating of 4.2 out of 5. To account for this lukewarm response to online classes, they listed some of their concerns about taking online courses.

The trouble with focus and self-motivation

Focus and self-motivation is a concern felt by both current (68.87%) and prospective (60.30%) international students and is common among everyone – professionals and students alike – when beginning to work or study from home. 

Even for students who are used to learning outside of the classroom, this complete shift to online learning can be challenging. One student wrote in the survey, “Online studies used to be something I thought I was pretty good at, seeing as I had taken three online courses. However, once all seven of my classes were online, it was like I had no control and could not keep track of assignments or due dates whatsoever. It has 100% made my anxiety skyrocket and has affected my mental health in the worst of ways.”

Universities should take this as their cue to reach out personally and offer counselling and support to students who are having trouble with motivation or are struggling with their mental health. 

Lack of in-person interaction 

Both current and prospective students are worried about losing out on in-person interaction with classmates, which is an important aspect of both the learning process and the study abroad experience. 63.64% of current students and 60.86% of prospective students cited a lack of social interaction as one of their primary concerns about online learning. 

“Universities should take this as their cue to reach out personally and offer counselling and support to students who are having trouble with motivation or are struggling with their mental health”

As one student writes in the survey, “Tutors should ask students how they are doing personally and not just how their projects are going.” Although courses may be delivered online, students want to maintain the personal aspect of studying, especially during this emotionally trying time.

Unprepared Professors 

41.56% of current students are concerned about professors who were not trained to deliver lectures online. As one student points out: “Online studies are not as specific. Maybe because the teachers have still not gotten a hold of using internet technology. It doesn’t work the same as in a classroom. The teachers fail to explain concepts.” 

They also express concerns about a lack of communication and support from schools: “I have not been informed about what is going on with my course and have been kept in the dark.”

Quality of Online Degree

Prospective international students may have less experience with online learning, but 41.42% are worried about their degree recognition if all university courses go digital. One student writes, “I wonder how this ultimately affects the quality of education and my grades,” while another wonders, “Is an online degree as valid as an on-campus degree?”

These are all valid concerns felt by both current and prospective students that universities are advised to address early and often in order to improve student satisfaction and happiness during this difficult period.

Final thoughts

Students and universities should be commended for their quick move from in-person to online learning. In these unprecedented circumstances, it can be difficult to know what actions to take or how to handle difficulties when they arise. While student concerns are valid and should be addressed, it’s reassuring to know online learning is an option. 

As one student optimistically writes, “The only thing that we can do is stay calm, stay positive, and find new creative ways to continue studying as best as we can.”

About the author: Keely Witherow is a native Texan who moved to Sweden in 2016 to complete a Master’s Degree in International and European Relations at Linköping University. A strong believer in the importance of study abroad, Keely also studied in Paris at Sciences-Po and the American University of Paris while earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Global Studies. She now writes for