Issues and Challenges
for Teaching Successful
Online Courses in
A Literature Review
, Angie Lipschuetz
Online education changes all components of teaching and learning in higher educa-
tion. Many empirical studies have been conducted to examine issues in delivering
online courses; however, few have synthesized prior studies and provided an over-
view on issues in online courses. A review of literature using Cooper’s framework
was conducted to identify such issues. Three major categories of findings were
identified: issues related to online learners, instructors, and content development.
Learners’ issues included learners’ expectations, readiness, identity, and participation
in online courses. Instructors’ issues included changing faculty roles, transitioning
from face-to-face to online, time management, and teaching styles. Content issues
included the role of instructors in content development, integration of multimedia in
content, role of instructional strategies in content development, and considerations
for content development. To address these challenges in online education, higher
education institutions need to provide professional development for instructors,
trainings for learners, and technical support for content development.
distance education and telelearning, teaching or learning strategies, postsecondary
education, pedagogical issues, human–computer interface
Journal of Educational Technology
2017, Vol. 46(1) 4–29
!The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, Oviedo, FL, USA
School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, Tempe, AZ, USA
Mansureh Kebritchi, School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix, 3935 Flowering Stream Way,
Oviedo, FL 32766, USA.
Online education has become increasingly popular in the U.S. higher education
within the last two decades, and most higher education institutions believe that
this method of instruction will be critical for the future of higher education
(Allen & Seaman, 2014). The accessibility of the internet and ﬂexibility of
online courses have made online education an integral part of higher education
(Li & Irby, 2008; Luyt, 2013; Lyons, 2004). In addition, ﬁnancial issues facing
many higher education institutions and students’ demands shift the focus of
these institutions more toward using online education (Limperos, Buckner,
Kaufmann, & Frisby, 2015). Given the opportunities that online education pro-
vides for faculty, students, and institutions, the amount of attention it has
received is not surprising (Konetes, 2011).
Many empirical studies have been conducted to examine the quality of online
courses from various aspects. Studies have identiﬁed and examined critical issues
aﬀecting quality of online education such as communication, technology, time man-
agement, pedagogy, and assessment (Bassoppo-Moyo, 2006; Conaway, Eston, &
Schmit, 2005; Ko & Rossen, 2010; Limperos, et al., 2015). There are also organiza-
tions such as Quality Matters and Online Learning Consortium that focus on improv-
ing quality of online education in higher education by providing resources as well as
opportunities for collaboration on curriculum development. However, the literature
pertaining to online education needs literature reviews that further synthesize and
integrate the empirical studies’ results and provide an integrative report on existing
challenges in teaching online courses. Often online educators must go through the
daunting task of sifting through the increasingly expanding literature to identify these
issues for themselves (Mayes, Luebeck, Yu Ku, Akarasriworn, & Korkmaz, 2011).
Furthermore, because of continued reports of high dropout rates and achieve-
ment problems in online courses (Luyt, 2013; Morris, Xu, & Finnegan, 2005;
Tyler-Smith, 2006), conducting such an investigation and providing the results
increasingly become critical in order to inform educators about considerations
and changes necessary for improving the quality of online courses. The purpose of
this study was, therefore, to inform educators about the major issues and strate-
gies that aﬀect the quality of teaching online courses in higher education. We have
examined the literature to identify major challenges and issues in teaching online
higher education courses, organized and provided the issues under topical classi-
ﬁcation, and provided some suggestions to address the issues for online educators.
To achieve the purpose of the study, a literature review was conducted using
Cooper’s (1988) procedure for synthesizing literature to (a) formulate the prob-
lem, (b) collect data, (c) evaluate the appropriateness of the data, (d) analyze and
interpret relevant data, and (e) organize and present the results. The results were
Kebritchi et al. 5
then depicted in a model which shows the issues aﬀecting the teaching of online
courses and the relationship among these issues. For the purpose of this study,
online education is deﬁned as postsecondary and credit bearing coursework
completely delivered through online courses via a learning management
system (LMS) such as Blackboard or Moodle. The focus of this study is on
online courses oﬀered via a LMS by academic higher education institutions
including public, private, and for-proﬁt universities in the United States.
Students enroll in online courses as part of their degree requirements.
The problem is that the rapid integration of online education into higher educa-
tion has diverted educators’ attention from closely identifying major challenges in
teaching online courses and forming a combined overview based on previous
studies. Studies have suggested various issues, but the issues were not categorized
and combined under any topical classiﬁcation to provide online educators with an
organized overview of the issues (Mayes et al., 2011). For example, Brooks (2003)
referred to attitudes of instructors as a major issue aﬀecting teaching online
courses. Arbaugh (2005) considered technology, behavioral characteristics of
the learners, and instructors’ teaching style as essential challenges. Jacobs (2014)
suggested assessment of students is a major issue in online courses. Yueng (2001)
referred to instructor and student support, course development, course structure,
and how the institution evaluates online learning as major issues.
Such variety in discrete reporting may cause educators to spend additional
time reviewing the studies to capture an entire view about issues in teaching
online courses. To help address the problem and form a combined classiﬁcation
of reported issues for teaching online courses, the following question guided this
review: What are the major categories of issues and challenges that aﬀect teach-
ing online courses in higher education institutions in the United States?
The purpose of data collection was to ﬁnd empirical studies including quantita-
tive, qualitative, mixed methods, and literature reviews conducted on identifying
challenges in online education published in peer-reviewed journals within the
range of 1990 to 2015. The keywords that were used included “online courses
and issues,” “online education and challenges,” “web-based instruction,”
“online teaching and issues,” “course redesign,” “instructional design and
online learning,” “curriculum design and online faculty,” “distance learning,”
“e-learning,” and “online instruction and issues.” The databases that were used
for literature research included Google Scholar, Educational Resources
Information Center (ERIC), JSTOR, Teaching and Learning Journals,
Conference Proceedings, and EBSCO HOST.
6Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
Data Evaluation and Analysis
Based on the described procedure, 104 articles were found. Content analysis
approach (Strauss, 1987) was used to analyze the collected articles based on
the main topic of the studies. Online course disciplines, demographics of stu-
dents, and level of courses (i.e., undergraduate vs. graduate) were not considered
as factors for exclusion or inclusion of the studies. The focus was on including
studies not on an institutional level in higher education but on the level of
individual online courses within the institution. In other words, studies that
were included in the review examined teaching and learning issues within
online courses, not institutional issues related to online courses such as admin-
istration policies, budgets, or online program development. The collected articles
were categorized into major topical themes. New themes were added until the
data themes reached saturation, meaning that all new data could be categorized
under the already developed themes. Of the 104 articles that were found on
online courses, 25 on learners’ issues, 23 focused on content design, 45 focused
on issues related to instructors’ issues, 11 focused on mixed issues of instructors,
learners, and content. The remaining articles that did not discuss speciﬁc issues
in the above three aspects were excluded from this review.
The literature search for the studies was extensive and systematic usinga framework
to ﬁnd as many related studies as possible; however, the review was not exhaustive.
The ﬁndings were limited to the results that emerged in the searched databases using
the aforementioned keywords. It is reasonable to assume there were other related
studies in the literature that did not emerge and were not included in this review.
As a result of reviewing the studies and categorizing them into major topical
themes, the following three major themes of issues related to learners, instruc-
tors, and content emerged.
Issues Related to Learners
The review of literature revealed that issues related to learners may be summar-
ized into learners’ expectations, readiness, identity, and participation in online
courses as shown in Table 1.
Learners’ expectations. Learners’ expectations can be challenging and can also
interfere with eﬀectively teaching online courses (Li & Irby, 2008; Luyt, 2013).
Some learners may have inappropriate expectations such as expecting instant
Kebritchi et al. 7
feedback on their online comments and assignments or may appear rude and
demanding in their emails. Some may question their grades and others may not
take the assignment deadlines seriously (Li & Irby, 2008; Lyons, 2004).
Instructors are suggested to minimize these inappropriate expectations by clearly
communicating their course rules and policies at the beginning of the course.
Learners’ readiness. Learners’ readiness to attend online courses is one of the
major issues discussed in literature (Hung, Chou, Chen, & Own, 2010; Smith,
Murphy, & Mahoney, 2003). Not all learners can successfully participate in
online courses. Identifying and adopting learning styles and skills required to
participate in online courses can be challenging for learners (Mayes et al., 2011;
Luyt, 2013). Mostly the learners need to be self-motivated and self-directed.
Online instructors should be ready to help learners who lack the required
Table 1. Learners’ Issues and Related Sources.
Learners’ issues Sources
Expectations Li and Irby (2008)
Aragon, Johnson, and Shaik (2002)
Hung, Chou, Chen, and Own (2010)
Mayes et al. (2011)
Peng, Tsai, and Wu (2006)
Smith et al. (2003)
Tsai and Lin (2004)
Goodyear and Zenios (2007)
McInnery and Roberts (2004)
Participation An and Frick (2006)
Ching, and Hsu (2015)
Hew and Hara (2007)
Hrastinski (2008, 2009)
Ice, Curtis, Phillips, and Wells (2007)
Morris et al. (2005)
Olesova, Richardson, Weasenforth, and Meloni, (2011)
Romiszowski and Mason (2004)
Vonderwell and Zachariah (2005)
Wise, Speer, Marbouti, and Hsiao (2013)
8Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
learning skills. To help learners, the major aspects or dimensions of readiness
should be further clariﬁed. Literature indicated that learners’ technical skills
related to use of computers and the Internet (Peng, Tsai, & Wu, 2006), their
perceptions and attitudes toward the Internet (Tsai & Lin, 2004), their cultural
and non-English backgrounds (Luyt, 2013), and their time management skills
(Hill, 2002; Roper, 2007) are considered important for shaping learners’ readi-
ness to participate in online courses.
To help learners identify the required skills, a useful overarching model with
ﬁve major readiness dimensions along with an instrument to measure the dimen-
sions was suggested by Hung et al. (2010). The ﬁve dimensions include self-
directed learning, motivation for learning, computer and Internet self-eﬃcacy,
online communication self-eﬃcacy, and learner control (Hung et al. 2010). First,
self-directed learning is deﬁned as a process in which learners take responsibility
in understanding their learning needs, establishing their learning goals, and
implementing learning strategies and evaluation (Knowles, 1975). Online courses
provide a great extent of ﬂexibility and autonomy for the learners. Learners with
higher levels of self-directed learning are more successful in online settings (Lin
& Hsieh, 2001). Second, motivation refers to the “need to do something out of
curiosity and enjoyment” (Hung et al., 2010, p. 1082). Motivation for learning in
online settings plays a critical role in the success of learners, aligning learners’
eﬀorts with learners’ desires, and increasing learner retention (Saade
´, He, &
Kira, 2007). Third, computer and Internet self-eﬃcacy refers to learners’ per-
ceptions about their skills to use computers and the Internet to accomplish a
task. Researchers noted that this eﬃcacy is related to complex tasks such as
trouble shooting problems. Learners with higher self-eﬃcacy perform better in
online courses (Tsai & Tsai, 2003). Fourth, online communication self-eﬃcacy
refers to learners’ perceptions about their abilities to communicate in online
settings. Learners with higher communication self-eﬃcacy were reported to
better perform in online settings (McVay, 2000; Roper, 2007). Finally, learner
control refers to the degree which learners can direct their learning experiences
(Hung et al., 2010; Shyu & Brown, 1992). Online settings as compared with
traditional face-to-face settings oﬀer learners with more control over their learn-
ing materials. Online learners may choose the sequence, pace, and amount of
content and may follow a more individualized approach. Learners perform
better when they are provided with more control (Hung et al., 2010, Reigeluth
& Stein, 1983; Wang & Beasley, 2002). Instructors may use the Hung et al.
(2010) validated instrument to identify online learners’ readiness levels within
these ﬁve dimensions and support the learners who are not well-prepared to
participate in online courses.
Learners’ identity. Learners may feel isolated and disconnected in online courses
(McInnery & Roberts, 2004), which may aﬀect learning. Aﬃliation with the
community of learning inﬂuences learners’ sense of identity and learning
Kebritchi et al. 9
(Koole, 2014). Particularly from a social constructionist perspective, learners
and the community within which they interact socially cocreate their identities.
Therefore, it is critical to help learners develop a shared sense of belonging,
purpose, and norms (Koole, 2014; Lapadat, 2007). A strong sense of identity
along with belonging to the knowledge community as a valued member plays a
critical role in eﬀective knowledge building (Goodyear & Zenios, 2007). To help
learners achieve a sense of identity, Koole (2014) developed a Web of Identity
model with ﬁve components of technical, political, structural, cultural, and per-
sonal dramaturgical or performance to succeed in online settings. Technical
dramaturgical encompasses asynchronous time to think and semi-permanent
time to review. Political dramaturgical includes sharing power, persuading, dom-
inating, and controlling. Structural dramaturgical includes status seeking, includ-
ing or excluding, role taking, and realigning structure. Cultural dramaturgical
includes behavioral expectations, sharing purpose, and using symbols. Personal-
agency dramaturgical includes interaction styles and sharingpersonal information.
Learners’ participation. Learners’ nature of participation and engagement in online
settings is another major issue discussed by researchers. Some researchers con-
sidered participation through interacting with peers and instructors by writing
(Romiszowski & Mason, 2004; Vonderwell & Zachariah, 2005), while others
suggested that learners who observed the interaction and spent time on reading
more than writing were still engaged in learning (Hrastinski, 2008, 2009; Wise,
Speer, Marbouti, & Hsiao, 2013). Online listening or observing is a complex
phenomenon and a substantial component of learners’ participation in online
discussion. A group of researchers in their study of 96 participants in 3-week
online undergraduate courses found that learners spent three quarters of their
time listening or observing in online discussions (Wise et al., 2013). Romiszowski
and Mason (2004) argued the assumption that infrequent contributors are “pas-
sive recipients rather than actively engaged in learning” (p. 399) has been rarely
challenged in research. However, online listening or observing is a form of active
learning, as it consists of engagement with the content, thought, and reﬂection
(Hrastinski, 2009). This is grounded in the concept of vicarious learning where
learning occurs by observing others’ active dialogue (Kolb, 1984; McLendree,
Stenning, Mayes, Lee, & Cox, 1998). The implication for online instructors is to
recognize and support the nature of learners’ online participation. It is an over-
simpliﬁed approach to judge learners’ participation only by the quantity or
length of their online postings. A more inclusive framework based on the
social perspectives on learning discussed by Vygotsky (1978), Wenger (1998),
¨(2000), through which participation includes doing, talking, thinking,
and feeling, which occur in both online and oﬄine environments (Hrastinski,
2008, 2009; Wise et al., 2013), may be used to more appropriately judge learners’
online participation. For example, Morris, Finnegan, and Sz-Shyans (2005) used
both frequency variables (e.g., counting postings) and duration variables (e.g.,
10 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
seconds spending viewing postings or content pages and number of postings
viewed) to identify predictor variables for learners’ ﬁnal course grades in their
study of 354 online learners at the University of Georgia and found the duration
variables were the predictors of the ﬁnal grades.
Additionally, the literature indicates that learners’ participation in online
discussions can be enhanced by mixing audio or video discussion with online
text discussions (An & Frick, 2006; Ching & Hsu, 2015; Hara & Hew, 2007; Ice,
Curtis, Phillips, & Wells, 2007; Olesova, Richardson, Weasenforth, & Meloni,
2011). Audio or video components enhance communication and connection with
peers, encourage learners to participate in the discussions, and support learners
to elaborate on their responses, as it facilitates less time consuming communi-
cation as compared with text discussion (An & Frick, 2006; Ching & Hsu, 2015;
Hara & Hew, 2007). One drawback of using audio or video discussion was the
diﬃculty of extracting ideas from long audio or video comments as compared
with text comments (Ching & Hsu, 2015). In general, audio or video discussion
has been recommended to be used for community building, ice breaking activ-
ities, and supplementary for clariﬁcation and elaboration on text postings.
Issues Related to Content
The review of literature revealed that issues related to content may be summar-
ized into the role of instructors in content development, integration of multi-
media in content, role of instructional strategies in content development, and
considerations for content development as shown in Table 2.
Content development and instructors. In a majority of online courses, instructors
teach with predeﬁned content. In these courses, instructors face the issue of lack
of empowerment (Evrim, Correia, & Thompson, 2011). In such situations, the
role of instructors in creating, shaping, and integrating their own experiences
into the content of the courses has been downplayed (Rennert-Ariev, 2008).
Online instructors are encouraged to engage in designing the content and adopt-
ing an autonomous and active role through constantly criticizing their assump-
tions toward online teaching (Evrim et al., 2011).
Instructors may be responsible for preparing and planning materials for
online courses. The task of generating new materials or adjusting the materials
from face-to-face classes to an online setting can be very challenging (Li & Irby,
2008). Often proper training and support has not been provided to instructors
who are transitioning course content from face-to-face to online settings
(Kyei-Blankson & Keengwe, 2011).
Content cannot simply be copied from a face-to-face to an online setting.
Koehler, Mishra, Hershey, and Peruski (2004) encouraged instructors to take
content, pedagogy, and technology into account when designing online courses.
However, instructors may not be willing to change their teaching strategies when
Kebritchi et al. 11
transitioning from a face-to-face to an online course (Barrett, 2010). In addition
to a lack of training and support, instructors also perceive a lack of incentives in
designing and delivering online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Oﬀering appro-
priate incentives increases an instructor’s willingness to design and deliver an
online course (Hoyt & Oviatt, 2013). However, institutions are encouraged to
communicate with instructors to determine what incentives to oﬀer as extrinsic
monetary incentives are not necessarily what faculty desire (Herman, 2013).
Intrinsic motivators that may positively inﬂuence instructors to deliver an
online course are a ﬂexible schedule and their own self-satisfaction. Other extrin-
sic motivators that may be more inﬂuential than monetary incentives include a
decreased workload and release time (Parker, 2003).
Content and multimedia. Content may be developed based on strategies such as
integrating multimedia to enhance the learning experience using constructivist
theory principles (Almala, 2005). Examples of multimedia include learning
Table 2. Content Issues and Related Sources.
Content issues Sources
Development and instructors Allen and Seaman (2010, 2014)
Evrim, Correia and Thompson (2011)
Hoyt and Oviatt (2013)
Kyei-Blankson and Keengwe (2011)
Koehler, Mishra, Hershey, and Peruski (2004)
Li and Irby (2008)
Content and multimedia Almala (2005)
Niess and Gillow-Wiles (2013)
Yue et al. (2013)
Content and instructional strategies Chametzky (2014)
Niess and Gillow-Wiles (2013)
Content and consideration Allen et al. (2013)
Gikandi, Morrow, and Davis (2011)
12 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
games, videos, and simulations. It is important to note that simply incorporating
multimedia into the design of online courses is not always the right answer.
Instructors need to ask themselves what the technology will add to the learning
activity. Multimedia used in the wrong way can be a detriment to the learning
process (Yue, Bjork, & Bjork, 2013). According to multimedia learning theory,
there are three instructional design approaches to enhance learning: less-is-more,
more-is-more, and focused-more-is-more (Mayer, 2014). The less-is-more
approach focuses on reducing or eliminating extraneous material to avoid any
distraction in the learning process. The more-is-more approach focuses on
adding features such as graphics to increase motivation with the understanding
that adding too much may be a distracter. The focused-more-is-more approach
provides students ample time to learn course material while using added features
such as graphics and challenging learning situations. Multimedia options pro-
vide students with an opportunity for multiple attempts at mastering content in
a lesson without the need of the instructor repeating the same material (Miller,
2014). Furthermore, student engagement is enhanced with the use of more than
plain text. Hathaway (2013) encouraged the use of multiple types of learning
tools to engage students in an online classroom. To increase the beneﬁt of multi-
media tools in the online classroom, technology should be introduced early in
the class (Niess & Gillow-Wiles, 2013).
Content and instructional strategies. Focusing on principles of andragogy, content in
online courses should be learner centered (Chametzky, 2014; Luyt, 2013).
Collaboration with peers is another strategy to enhance learning and engage-
ment in online courses (Niess & Gillow-Wiles, 2013). Content should include
collaborative activities which have corresponding rubrics detailing criteria for
interaction and engagement. The best practices recommended for developing
content in an online course are a combination of collaborative activities, reﬂect-
ive activities, clear assessment criteria, and integration of technology (Niess &
Gillow-Wiles, 2013). Applying course redesign strategies is another eﬀective way
for instructors to appropriately transition their face-to-face courses to online
courses and successfully integrate technology into the online courses.
Furthermore, course redesign reduces cost and raises retention rates (Gilroy,
2006; Spiceland, Spiceland, & Schaeﬀer, 2015). Aligned with principles of andra-
gogy, course redesign strategies support the use of interactive learning in online
settings with the use of multimedia tools (Twigg, 2003). The incorporation of
online tutorials, automated feedback, small discussion groups, and a supportive
learning community to assist students in content mastery are the key compo-
nents of course redesign (Twigg, 2005).
While the environment is diﬀerent, overarching best practices for instruction
are similar for both online and face-to-face courses. Miller (2014) presented six
principles for eﬀective instruction: peer-to-peer interaction, active student
engagement in learning, emphasis on practice and student eﬀort, personalization
Kebritchi et al. 13
to the individual student, variety, and emphasis on higher thought processes.
Miller reviewed additional strategies to consider when teaching online courses
that are not factors in face-to-face courses. Instructors must consider how to
incorporate the use of synchronous activities as online courses usually follow an
asynchronous model. Assumptions cannot be made regarding students’ ability
to use technology in a course. In accordance with the recommendation from
Niess and Gillow-Wiles (2013), training must be provided on how to use tech-
nology at the beginning of the course. As discussed in the section earlier, multi-
media should be included to avoid only learning from text readings.
Considerations for content development. The trajectory of the course should be laid
out clearly for the students, and content should be presented in meaningful
sections throughout the course (Allen, Kiser, & Owens, 2013). Clarity of assign-
ment instructions is necessary for improved student understanding along with
additional time for students to complete online collaborative learning activities
(Allen et al., 2013; Miller, 2014). Student learning outcomes, objectives, and
assignments must be aligned. As in a face-to-face course, assessment, both for-
mative and summative, is important in an online course (Miller, 2014). Although
formative assessment has historically been less emphasized in online courses, it is
not only a way to support learning but a strategy to keep students engaged in the
online environment (Gikandi, Morrow, & Davis, 2011).
Issues Related to Instructors
The review of literature revealed that issues related to instructors may be sum-
marized into the four speciﬁc categories of changing faculty roles, transition
from face-to-face to online, faculty time management, and teaching styles as
shown in Table 3.
Changes in faculty role. One of the major challenges with online education is the
changing role of the instructor (Berge & Collins, 1996; Coppola, Hiltz, & Rotter,
2001; Syverson & Slatin, 2010). Four diﬀerent roles are identiﬁed for online
instructors: pedagogical, social, managerial, and technical responsibilities
(Berge, 1998). Pedagogical roles refer to teaching methods; social roles are the
way instructors establish social relationships with the students; managerial roles
include administrative and organizational tasks; and technical responsibilities are
the technical support that instructors provide for students. Educational purposes
of online teaching are mainly fulﬁlled through performing pedagogical tasks
(Doll, 1993; Robertson, 2000). Other literature supports the shift in the instruc-
tor’s role by placing emphasis on the ability to deliver content, transfer from
teacher-centered to student-centered education, better communicate, and use tech-
nology (Berge & Collins, 1996; Choi & Park, 2006; Coppola et al., 2001; Doll,
1993; Fein & Logan, 2003; Juan, Steegman, Huertas, Martinez, & Simosa, 2011;
14 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
Table 3. Instructors’ Issues and Related Sources.
Instructors’ issues Sources
Changing role of faculty Berge (1995)
Berge and Collins (1996)
Choi and Park (2006)
Coppola et al. (2001)
Fein and Logan (2003)
Juan et al. (2011)
Neely et al. (2010)
Syverson and Slatin (2010)
Yang and Cornellius (2005)
Transition from face-to-face to online
Student vs. faculty lead courses
Teacher preparation programs
Anderson et al. (2011)
Baran, Correia, and Thompson (2011)
Chang, Shen, and Liu (2014)
Coppola et al. (2001)
Crawley et al. (2009)
Edge et al. (2000)
Fein and Logan (2003)
Juan, et al. (2011)
Limperos, et al. (2015)
Osika et al. (2009)
Sundar (2007; 2008)
Time Anderson et al. (2011)
Fein and Logan (2003)
Juan et al. (2011)
Li and Irby (2008)
Kyei-Blankson and Keengwe (2011)
Moreland and Saleh (2007)
Teaching styles Anderson et al. (2011)
Bawane and Spector (2009)
Choi and Park (2006)
Chang et al. (2014)
Crawley et al. (2009)
Fein and Logan (2003)
Graham et al. (2001)
Juan et al. (2011)
Limperos et al. (2015)
Moreland et al. (2007)
Kebritchi et al. 15
Neely & Tucker, 2010; Robertson, 2000; Syverson & Slatin, 2010; Yang &
Cornellius, 2005). The shift from faculty-centered education (faculty lectures)
to a more student-centered approach (students decide how they wish to learn)
produced a new role for the instructor as a facilitator. The faculty role changes
from “performer” in front of the face-to face class in the lecture-style delivery of
information to “guides” who must make adjustments to the delivery of content
based on their online environments (Coppola et al., 2001). In other words, the
online instructor role changes from knowledge transmission agent to a specialist
to guide students’ learning process (Juan et al., 2011). In this role, instructors
facilitate student learning, rather than teach students (lead lecture).
Furthermore, the faculty is available to provide feedback (pedagogical), point
to the tools (managerial or administrative), and facilitate engagement between
students (social relationships; Berge, 1998; Yang & Cornellius, 2005).
The variation in roles is made more challenging when the instructor is a
novice teacher in the online settings. According to Choi and Park (2006),
novice instructors ﬁnd online courses involve a heavy workload, technology
issues, and student–teacher interaction. The major pedagogical challenge
stems from the inability of instructors to seamlessly transfer their face-to-face
course materials to the online environment (Choi & Park, 2006). Furthermore,
Fein and Logan (2003) explained that faculty face challenges at three phases
with online education: the design, the delivery, and the follow-up. In the design
phase, faculty must take into consideration how students learn and what to
include to assure that the class materials interest and engage students. Some
of the suggested resources are the use of media, lecture notes, and other sources
that can add to the class materials. Challenges with delivery are that many
faculty members are not able to translate the materials into the online
medium. The follow-up phase deals with storage of the information, access to
it later, and the dissemination of materials. In addition to the misunderstanding
about the transfer of materials from one medium to another, faculty may feel a
disconnection between the design produced by the curriculum and design team,
and the actual delivery of class content (Neely & Tucker, 2010).
Transitioning from face-to-face to online. The challenge to eﬀectively transfer what is
taught in the face-to-face classroom to online continues to be a problem.
Anderson, Imdieke, and Standerford, 2011 stated that they saw one of the
main challenges as the “disconnect between the way teachers were taught to
teach” (p. 4), and how the course content must be delivered in an eﬀective
online classroom. This disconnect, while not new, does present a problem as
many of the teacher education programs may not have yet caught up to the
evolving online teaching environments. Another challenge outlined by Anderson
et al. (2011) is the almost non-existence of institutional expectations for their
online courses. These include expectations of teachers, students, courses, and
staﬀ. Without clear guidelines and expectations for faculty members to follow,
16 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
there is no way to assess the eﬀectiveness of these online courses. Further
Anderson et al. (2011) explained that the feedback they received from students
seldom helped them in adjusting their teaching as they would in a face-to-face
Additionally, the method of online delivery varies from the traditional face-
to-face education (Anderson et al., 2011; Fein & Logan, 2003; Juan et al., 2011)
in that student interactions are between student and faculty, student and peers,
and student and technology. Of course, this shift in the instructor’s role must be
supported by the technology and the curriculum developers as illustrated in Fein
and Logan (2003). Similarly, Coppola et al. (2001) described the role change for
instructors as an opportunity to facilitate interactions between students and
their peers. Although the interactions may vary among LMSs, they must take
place to assure success of the course. Many instructors struggle with the delivery
of the content and engagement of their students due to lack of visual and face-
to-face contact with their students (Crawley, Fewell, & Sugar, 2009), thus feeling
less control over how to adjust their classes.
Communication barriers. Communication challenges include the eﬀectiveness of fac-
ulty communication with language barriers (Sherry, 1996) and communication via
various technological modes (Limperos et al., 2015; Sundar, 2007, 2008). The
changing role of faculty also impacts the communication between faculty and
students. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors take their cues from students’
verbal and non-verbal interactions in the classroom (Coppola et al., 2001). It is
diﬃcult to take these aﬀective cues when the faculty is unable to see their students’
faces (Crawley et al., 2009). In a study of 20 online instructors, Coppola et al.
(2001) found that there were not appropriate feedback methods in place and what
was in place was similar to courses in the format of earlier distance or corres-
pondent education. In correspondence courses, feedback is provided through
regular (snail) mail and usually not as timely as necessary for corrective measures.
Online faculty need to be comfortable with the technology and how to use it to be
successful. Thus, it becomes necessary to provide suﬃcient training for faculty on
the most current technologies as well as engaging them in the development of
online classes. Another group of researchers drew upon mass communication
theories and concluded that online lectures delivered via multimodal formats
including audio and text created more positive student experiences as compared
with lectures oﬀered via only one mode (Limperos et al., 2015).
Student versus faculty focus classes. In accordance with the changing role of the
faculty is the focus from face-to-face instructor-focused and led classrooms to
the more student-led or student-focused classrooms in the online environment.
Consequently, the lecture format of the traditional classroom is less likely to
work online as the delivery of the content must be adjusted to meet the demand
of an evolving interactive environment (Kember & Kwan, 2000). Other issues
Kebritchi et al. 17
include the balance that must be struck between providing “bells and whistles”
of the technology (Fein & Logan, 2003, p. 47) and the content necessary to
assess student learning outcomes. As Fein and Logan (2003) suggested, the
“bells and whistles” do not necessarily provide the best outcomes for students
who might be easily distracted by the videos, graphics, and other such technol-
ogies within the class, thus losing the opportunity to engage in the class discus-
sions that might provide learning. These considerations result in the need to
expand the same level of resources in the design of the class and technology
support (Edge & Loegering, 2000) as maintaining the online presence and teach-
ing the class. As such, instructors often ﬁnd teaching online courses more time
consuming than face-to-face courses.
Instructors’ lack of interest in online courses. Many instructors who teach face-to-face
are not interested in teaching online (Fein & Logan, 2003; Osika, Johnson, &
Buteau, 2009). One of the major issues is that these instructors have been teach-
ing face-to-face for years and do not feel comfortable switching to the online
format. This discomfort is the fear of the unknown, or it may be related to the
inability to connect with students within the online environment. In accordance
with fear of the unknown, many instructors were afraid that they would be
replaced by computers (Berge & Collins, 1996; Osika et al., 2009). Some faculty
ﬁnd the online environment cold and distant for students and have not yet made
the connections between the content and how best to deliver their lessons online.
Instructors’ comfort level with technology as well as their perceptions of the
value of online education plays major roles in their willingness to teach online
(Fein & Logan, 2003; Osika et al., 2009). While faculty may be comfortable
adding technology to enhance their classes, they might not feel that online
courses hold the same value as traditional courses (Osika et al., 2009). In add-
ition, faculty who are comfortable teaching in face-to-face settings and enjoy the
students’ interaction within face-to-face settings rarely feel that online education
can oﬀer the level of interaction endemic to faculty–student engagement.
Similarly, lack of training for faculty and administrators (Chang, Shen, Liu,
2014; Mbuva, 2014; Osika et al., 2009) is among the reasons for the low-comfort
level of instructors to teach online.
Instructor preparation programs and the online medium. The other issue is that instruc-
tors of online education preparation programs may not know how to prepare
instructors for transition from the traditional face-to-face training to the online
teaching (Baran, Correia, & Thompson, 2011). One of the challenges identiﬁed
in a number of studies is the fact that instructors are bringing their traditional
styles of teaching to online and that it does not appear to be working (Coppola
et al., 2001). Therefore, the concern is that there should be another way to look
at online teaching approaches and online faculty preparation programs con-
sidering new strategies to aid in promoting better education for students.
18 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
Time. One of the major issues faced by instructors is the demand on their time,
as it takes quite a bit of time to prepare, plan, and teach an online class (Capra,
2011; Fein & Logan, 2003; Humphries, 2010). It takes faculty two times as long
to prepare and teach online than face-to-face, thus spending more time per
student to facilitate the class (Cavanaugh, 2005). In a time comparison study,
a faculty teaching an economics class that he has taught both online and face-to-
face spent 155 hours to prepare and teach the course online compared with 62
hours face-to-face (Cavanaugh, 2005). Note that the time diﬀerence did not vary
with class size—in fact, even smaller classes online demand the same amount of
time. The impact of time on class development, design, and facilitation may be a
deterrent to faculty interested in online courses (Crawley et al., 2009; McKenzie,
Mims, Bennett, & Waugh, 2000). Adjusting such expectations is required to
successfully teach online courses (Li & Irby, 2008). Providing support and a
learning community for instructors is beneﬁcial in improving the online teaching
experience (Kyei-Blankson & Keengwe, 2011). While time is a major factor in
online instruction issues, other minor aspects, such as instructors’ interest in the
modality and teacher education programs, might also be areas of concern.
Teaching styles. While earlier resource challenges such as technology, faculty, and
staﬀ availability are no longer dire (Crawley et al., 2009), there remains areas to
be addressed, such as eﬀective teaching style. In 2001, researchers came up with
seven principles for eﬀective online teaching which were adapted from long-
standing face-to-face principles. These principles include good faculty–student
interactions, setting expectations for interactions, and, the overarching theme of
the seven principles, the expectation of interaction both between faculty and
students and students and their peers (Graham, Cagiltay, Lim, & Craner,
2001). Eﬀective communication is another component of that interaction as
well as timely feedback to students.
Other suggestions for improving online instructors’ teaching eﬀectiveness is to
use various e-learning methods and strategies, such as dynamic presentations,
laboratory tutorials, simulations, conceptual discussions, interaction and collab-
oration with students to support their activity, exploration, and knowledge
development (Juan et al., 2011).
It is necessary that instructors use the tools provided but also consider how
best to present the concepts for the best student learning outcomes. The instruc-
tor is the single most important factor in determining student success in an
online class (Tunks, 2012). The instructor’s ability to communicate, form com-
munity, and deliver the appropriate lesson eﬀectively makes all the diﬀerence in
student learning outcomes. It is further suggested that the interaction that takes
place between faculty and students plays a major role in the success of online
learning. This interaction must be on a human level, meaning establishing a
relationship and the ability to connect with students and help them to feel as
a part of the class. Using various new interaction software appear to receive
Kebritchi et al. 19
accolades from students because they had “that personal touch” (p.7). A group
of researchers stressed the need for faculty to be knowledgeable about the modes
of communication available to create creative and successful engagement with
students, leveraging the software to produce shared community within the class,
and providing students the opportunity to interact in ways that create the ties
necessary to be a member of the class community (Bawane & Spector, 2009; Fein
& Logan, 2003; Limperos et al., 2015; Sundar, 2007, 2008; Tunks, 2012).
Based on the reviewed studies, one recommendation would be to allow obser-
vation opportunities for novice teachers of senior and seasoned faculty to assure
that eﬀective practices are transferred to novice instructors. The results of the
Anderson et al. (2011) study in which the instructor felt that student feedback
could assist them in adjusting course assignments and learning may be another
way to address the issues instructors and students face in the online classroom.
Students may be provided with opportunities to share what works or does not
work for them after each assignment as they are taking the class. Such an
approach might assist instructors in making the necessary adjustments as they
teach online courses to assure the best experience for their students. However,
the problem with this approach is that while the changes might work for the
current students, it may not work for future students. The challenge is to assure
the instructor’s teaching method has similar eﬀects for the next group of stu-
dents taking the class. A ﬁne balance must be navigated by online instructors to
assure that they are being reﬂective as well as recognizing the trends occurring in
their online class to ascertain the level of change that must take place each time
the course is taught.
In addition to having the opportunity to observe seasoned faculty teach
online, Choi and Park (2006) suggested that novice instructors might beneﬁt
from having speciﬁc training on online pedagogical delivery to assure that
they understand how students learn and what they will need to do to engage
students. Similarly, to assure success of the online environment, instructors
should be trained on the use of technology as inconsistent or unreliable tech-
nology can become a distraction online and as such negatively impact student
success (Fein & Logan, 2003). Struggling with the use of technology may distract
faculty and students and negatively aﬀect learning and teaching. Providing stu-
dents with a back-up plan in case technology fails is important. The support plan
may include a technology hotline phone number, email, or chat where students
can contact faculty, and a conference line in case the class need to be moved
from online to phone conference (Chang et al., 2014; Crawley et al., 2009; Fein
& Logan, 2003).
To be eﬀective in the classroom, instructors of online classes must be great
listeners and communicators as well as take the time and extra eﬀort to create
community and engage students with thought-provoking questions to help move
discussions along. Instructors must be able and willing to provide immediate
feedback and enforce a safe environment where students feel valued and able to
20 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
share their ideas. Staying organized and checking in with students on a daily or
weekly basis are important strategies to help build community and keep students
engaged in the class. Fein and Logan (2003) suggested FAQs as a resource to
assist students in answering their own questions, which provides immediate
feedback since students will not need to wait for long to receive answers to
their questions. As with all learning environments, it is imperative that the
instructors maintain reﬂectivity to continue to reﬂect on their work and assure
that they can make necessary adjustments for a successful learning experience
both for themselves and their students. Overall, recommendations for engage-
ment in the classroom include interactions between faculty and students, stu-
dents and students (team work, collaborations), and students and content
beyond lectures (Crawley et al., 2009; Moreland & Saleh, 2007). While the rec-
ommendations provided earlier may not work for all online environments, they
oﬀer some guidance for instructors and provide resources that may enhance the
role and competencies of online instructors.
A review of literature using Cooper’s framework was conducted to identify the
issues and challenges related to teaching online courses. Three major categories
of ﬁndings were identiﬁed consisting of issues related to online learners, instruc-
tors, and content development. The relationship between the three major clas-
siﬁcations and related issues are depicted in Figure 1. Issues related to learners
included learners’ expectations, readiness, identity, and participation in online
courses. Issues related to content included the role of instructors in content
development, integration of multimedia in content, role of instructional strate-
gies in content development, and considerations for content development. Issues
related to instructors included the four speciﬁc categories of changing faculty
roles, transition from face-to-face to online, time management, and teaching
styles. The results of this review of literature lead to the conclusion that
higher education institutions need to provide professional development for
instructors, trainings for learners, and technical support for the content devel-
opment and delivery of online courses to address the challenges in online edu-
cation and enhance the eﬀectiveness of online teaching and learning.
Higher education institutions play a central role in enhancing the quality of
online education by providing support for instructors, learners, and content
development. As shown in Figure 1, online education is a dynamic environment
whose three major components of instructors, learners, and content continu-
ously aﬀect each other while institutional support also greatly inﬂuences the
Online education will be critical for the future of higher education (Allen &
Seaman, 2014). Providing a detailed model such as shown in Figure 1 is very
valuable, as it shows major issues in online education and informs educators
Kebritchi et al. 21
about the challenges to be addressed to improve the quality of online education.
A number of studies suggested the importance of the support of educational
institutions to actively improve the quality of online education (Lion & Stark,
2010; Prestera & Moller, 2001). However, there was a short coming in the lit-
erature regarding a classiﬁed overview of the issues that need to be supported by
the educational institutions. This study bridged the gap and described and deli-
neated major patterns of challenges found in the literature for teaching online
courses. It is hoped that higher education institutions consider these challenges
and as we recommended, provide professional developments for online instruc-
tors, trainings for students, and adequate support for technical issues and multi-
media integration to further enhance the quality of online education.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conﬂicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
•Changing the role
•Transition to online
•Student vs faculty lead courses
•Delivery via multimedia
Figure 1. Three major components and the related issues in an online education
22 Journal of Educational Technology Systems 46(1)
The authors received no ﬁnancial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication
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Mansureh Kebritchi is founder and chair of the Center for Educational and
Instructional Technology Research at School of Advanced Studies, University
of Phoenix. She has years of experience working as faculty member and
researcher in the field of educational technology. Dr. Kebritchi’s research inter-
est focuses on improving quality of teaching and learning and evaluation models
in higher education institutions. The results of her research have been published
in international journals.
Angie Lipschuetz is program dean at School of Advanced Studies, University of
Lilia Santiague is an associate dean of Instruction for Doctoral Studies in
Education, School of Advanced Studies, University of Phoenix.
Kebritchi et al. 29