5 Dangerous Online Learning Myths

5 Dangerous Online Learning Myths (And How to Debunk Them)

There are many online learning myths out there.

Some are harmless, and quickly forgotten.
But others are more dangerous.

They have the potential to affect students’ progress and overall achievement.

That’s because the dangerous online learning myths establish unrealistic expectations for students.
They create an idyllic picture of online learning as being effortless and entertaining.

So the students who are new to distance study are in for quite a shock once they enrol in an online course.
Online learning involves a series of challenges, and this can come as a genuine surprise.

And so the reality can be disappointing and confronting.
That can lead to disengagement and even withdrawal from a course.

What can we do about this?

It’s helpful to identify the most common online learning myths.
And then create strategies to (gently) explain the realities.
That way, student expectations are corrected early on, and they can adjust and move forward rather than reel in shock, and leave the online course.

Let’s explore some of these dangerous myths, and talk about how to correct the student expectations they create.

The 5 Most Common Online Learning Myths
(And How to Address Them)

Myth 1: Online learning is entertaining.

Many students don’t realise that online learning is a lot more work than watching a movie.
Learning is work – even at its most engaging.

In some ways, online learning involves just as much work as traditional learning.

And sometimes more.
There’s the additional need to navigate the learning management system.
And students need to work in a self-directed way, largely without visual cues or immediate feedback.

It’s not a form of online entertainment.

How to debunk this myth:

  • Send out a welcome email at the beginning of the course that outlines course requirements.
  • Create a Course Information page that covers key points like how many assessments there are, and how much reading or research is required.
  • Ensure relevant course requirements are posted on the organisational website, so potential students can see it BEFORE they enrol.


online learning is like watching a movie (1)

Myth 2: Online learning always happens in real time.

It’s true that some online courses are delivered entirely by Zoom.
There can be regular face to face contact involved with this kind of delivery.

But many online courses are asynchronous.
Students have access to facilitators and advisors – but often through email.

So delays in communication are part of the experience, as students work through the material on their own.

How to debunk this myth:

  • The self-directed nature of the study should be clear on the organisational website, so that students know what they’re signing up for.
  • Explain to students that you’re available by email, and what your timeframes for responding are.
  • Point students to the course discussion boards or forums for peer support and contact.


online learning happens in real time

Myth 3: There are no deadlines.

It’s quite common for students new to online learning to be astounded to hear that there are due dates for assignments.

There’s often an assumption that assignments can be submitted when they’re completed – no matter when that might be.

Yes, online learning is overall more flexible – but not THAT flexible.

How to debunk this myth:

  • Make assignment deadlines easy to find in your learning management system.
  • List the deadlines in the welcome email you send to all students at the beginning of a semester.
  • Schedule reminder announcements in your learning management system the week before assignments are due.


online learning there are no deadlines

Myth 4: Online learning is faster than face to face learning.

There are some time-saving aspects to distance learning, for sure.

There’s no need to commute to a campus, for a start.
And students don’t need to wait around all day for a lecture that starts in the late afternoon.

But online learning still involves a time commitment.
There’s reading, research, and writing to be done.
And it takes time to become familiar with the learning technology.

None of this happens in a matter of minutes.

How to debunk this myth:

  • Explain how many hours of study are expected per module, over the semester and given the level of the course.
  • Include a calendar in the learning management system which spans the length of the course and enables students to visualise the length of the journey.
  • Ensure that students don’t enrol in too many papers because they underestimate the time commitment involved.


online learning is faster

Myth 5: Learning technology will be easy to use.

Most online learning management systems take some getting used to.

Even the most carefully laid out programmes demand careful navigation.
If all the course materials and assessments are online, there’s a lot to work through.
This is even more applicable to older learners who may not spend as much time online as the younger students in the course.

How to debunk this myth:

  • Make the section labels in your learning management system as self-explanatory as possible.
  • Provide a link to a simple orientation video that walks them through the technology and helps them to find what they need.
  • Explain how to contact the IT Helpdesk.


learning technology will be easy to use

The myths of online learning are nothing like the reality.

Students need to know what online learning is really like.
It takes time, and a commitment to moving independently through the materials and assessments.

Online learning is not like taking a ride on a mythical unicorn.
Yes, that would be a magical experience.

But there’s something even better waiting in the real world for online students.

Such as increased self-confidence, new skills and knowledge, and a qualification that will improve their lives and lead to new opportunities that weren’t there before they enrolled.

These are the kinds of magical outcomes that online learning really does offer.

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