Challenges and Solutions


Challenge 1.  Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.

Solution:  Incorporate contemporary pedagogical strategies such as found on the active learning online (See Examples of Active Learning Online)

Selected Reference:
Moore, A. H., Fowler, S. B., & Watson, C. E. (2007). Active learning and technology: technology: Designing change for faculty, students, and institutions. EDUCAUSE Review, 42(5), 42-61. Link:  Active Learning and Technology from Educause


Challenge 2.  Supporting  faculty development of teaching and learning tools that enhance online education.

Solution: Provide ongoing training, and support for online instructors.

Faculty education is a critical component of quality online education programs.  Assisting faculty members with specific instructional design strategies can help instructors offer ample opportunities for student interaction, participation, and feedback. For example, embedding the use of technology for social interaction such as Facebook, might increase the social presence between students as well as the teaching presence of the faculty. Building the social element into the course plan itself can balance the social and academic dialogue so critical to the success of distance education (Watson, 2007).

Sufficient technological support is also key in ensuring faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning.  Informal mentoring by experienced faculty can be helpful in this regard  (Thompson, 2006).  However, institutions have an obligation to provide a system that supports faculty and staff, providing assistance as needed (Bailey & Card, 2009).  Examples of such systems are the faculty development program of the University of Tennessee College of Nursing (Lee et al., (2010) and the Illinois Online Network faculty development program (Varvel, Lindeman, & Stovall, 2003).

Selected References:

Bailey, C. J, & Card, K. A. (2009). Effective pedagogical practices for online teaching: perception of experienced instructors. Internet and Higher Education, 12(3-4), 152-155.

Lee, D., Paulus, T. M., Loboda, I., Phipps, G., Wyatt, T. H., Myers, C. R., & Mixer, S. J. (2010). A faculty development program for nurse educators learning to teach online. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 54(6), 20-28.

Thompson, D. (2006). Informal faculty mentoring as a component of learning to teach online: an exploratory study Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(3), 1-10.

Varvel, V., Lindeman, M., & Stovall, I. (2003).  The Illinois Online Network is making the virtual classroom a reality: Study of an exemplary faculty development program. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(2), 81-95. Retrieved from

Watson, C. E. (2007). Self-Efficacy, the Innovation-Decision Process, and Faculty in Higher Education: Implications for Faculty Development (PhD dissertation Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2007).


Challenge 3.  Adequate equipment and resources are critical to online learning.  If students do not have the basic minimum equipment and system functions, either they cannot participate in all aspects of the course or their participation is hindered.

Solution: Faculty and students must have access to current technology.  Active learning activities typically require more interactive technologies, which might not be available on older computers. Also, dial-up connections do not possess sufficient bandwidth to transmit many video files, which results in an image that may not be viewable. Computer equipment, Internet service provider, software applications, and transmission details are all areas where online active learning can be interrupted.

Instructors can set up a place in the class discussion board for students to share answers to technology questions.  Students can often answer each questions for each other.  Many times student answers are innovative and helpful to everyone in the course, including the instructor.


Challenge 4. Teaching students with different learning styles.

Solution: Using a variety of instructional strategies and materials will cover different styles of learning.  (See more at Diverse Ways of Learning)


Challenge 5. Maintaining instructor and student presence in an online course.

Solution: Using active learning strategies online maximizes the perceived instructor and student presence online.  Discussion board and social interaction programs help assist in the socialization process.

Selected References:

Cobb, S. C. (2011). Social presence, satisfaction, and perceived learning of RN-to-BSN students in web-based nursing courses. Nursing Education Perspectives, 32(2), 115-119.

Mayne, L. A., & Wu, Q. (2011). Creating and measuring social presence in online graduate nursing courses. Nursing Education Perspectives, 32(2), 110-114.

Steinweg, S. B., Trujillo, L., Jeffs, T., & Warren, S. H. (2006). Maintaining the personal touch in a growing program: strategies for establishing social presence in online classes. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology, 2(2), 15-22. Retrieved from


Challenge 6. Lack of student computer skills

Online students need to be comfortable with basic skills in the following areas: word processing, Web creation, PowerPoint basics, research strategies (including electronic searching), basic keyboarding skills and content managements systems skills.

Solution:  Some institutions require students to take a short course in how to be an effective online learner, where they learn the basic skills needed to take an online course. Duke University has many resources available for faculty and students through the Duke University Office of Information Technology (OIT).


Challenge 7. Cultural and generational issues that impact collaboration and interaction among participants.

When a course involves students from two or more countries or cultures, it can be an exciting learning opportunity; however, differences in values, attitudes and customs can unknowingly alienate or incite a student’s contribution.

Solution: Promoting active learning activities where learners share their own background and discuss their own perspectives can enhance learning on many levels.

Selected References:

Bednarz, H., Schim, S., & Doorenbos, A. (2010). Cultural diversity in nursing education: perils, pitfalls, and pearls. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(5), 253-260. doi: 10.3928/01484834-20100115-02

Billings, D. M. (2008). Inclusive teaching. Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 39(7), 296-297. doi: 10.3928/00220124-20080701-13

Chen, A.-Y., Mashhadi, A., Ang, D., & Harkrider, N. (1999). Cultural issues in the design of technology-enhanced learning systems. British Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 217-230. doi: 10.1111/1467-8535.00111

Connor, V. (2011, Oct. 7). Communication barriers: keeping the walls down in the online classroom, from

Hannon, J., & D’Netto, B. (2007). Cultural diversity online: student engagement with learning technologies. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(5), 418-432.

Reushle, S., & McDonald, J. (2000). Web-based student learning: accommodating cultural diversity. Indian Journal of Open Learning, 9(3), 351-359.


Additional Resources

Picciano, A. G. (2001).  Distance Learning: Marking Connections Across Virtual Space and Time. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Picciano, A. G. (2006):  Blended learning: Implications for growth and access. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(3): 95-102.

Sammons, M. (2003). Exploring the new conception of teaching and learning in distance education. In M. G. Moore & W. G. Anderson (Eds.), Handbook of Distance Education (pp. 387–400). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Whitehead, J. (n.d.). Challenges of online education. 180 Technology Tips. Retrieved from