How Online Course Affect Students College Success

William Cohen
Published by William Cohen
Last Updated On: December 8, 2021

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 5.4 million people who take online courses. This amounts to 25.8% of the academic student population.

About 2,642,158, which amounts to 12.5% of all academic goers, take online college courses exclusively.

Yet, even though the numbers of students taking classes virtually are high, online course taking affects the success of a student.

I did tons of research and checked the available statistics on how studying virtually affects the success rate and what are the factors that make a student pass or fail a virtual class.

Scientific Research on How Online College Courses Affect Student Academic Success

A student typing on his laptop

Study #1

This study was conducted by the Georgia State School of Public Health (GSU SPH).

They offer both traditional, in person classes and online classes and they studied effects relative to both of these.

184 (23% of the student population) participated in the study [1].

The analyses provide evidence that people miss face-to-face communication with faculty and their peers, but other than this, there are no negative factors on how courses affect student success rate.

Study #2

Study #2 used the following data:

  • Over 230,000 people enrolled in 168,000 sections
  • More than 750 different subjects [2]

The study found that those enrolled in courses online have worse results compared to students enrolled in traditional in-person courses, both for courses taken on the Internet and future courses.

The research identifies that students with lower prior GPA are less likely to remain enrolled in school.

Study #3

Study #3 is accessing college level courses in the 2008-09 academic year in California Community Colleges [3].

The results found that students have:

  • Poorer outcomes on online courses compared to face-to-face
  • Poorer completion of online courses
  • Poorer outcome in completing with a passing grade

Why Students Taking Online Classes Have a Lower Rate of College Success?

A student writing a note during online class

1. No Face to Face Communication

College courses affect student engagement and success rates in different ways. One of them is no face-to-face communication.

Majority of students are used to being face-to-face with their teachers and other classmates, and they thrive on that close interaction.

So, taking a course online means adjusting to the impersonal nature of virtual studying, and it can be a challenge.

No face-to-face communication is one of the biggest issues online education faces, as it makes the students feel isolated and not engaged in the lesson.

2. Time Management Issues

A woman in a suit holding a big clock

Another cause that reduces student success is poor time management.

In fact, time flexibility is one of the main reasons why students take a course online instead of in person, but it’s also one of the most common reasons why students abandon studying on the Internet.

Some sources say that 40% of undergraduate and 76% of graduate students work more than 30college  hours a week.

Many are single mothers.

All of these people find it difficult to find time to study, or when the time comes, they’re too tired.

Other’s simply struggle with time management, and succumb to distractions and procrastination.

3. Lack of Computer Skills

Part of how online courses affect student success and progress in college grades are computer skills.

However, students who in prior studies didn't have to use technology probably won’t have well-developed technical skills. As a consequence, they will have issues focusing on understanding the subject and important concepts.

I find using Internet portals unfriendly. It takes me a long time to work it out, and this is not factored in when sessions start. I’m finding the entire ordeal very stressful and I have emailed lecturers, but I’ve received no reply.”


- Kingston University student

Online college courses affect people who struggle with technology so much that some of them are less likely to continue with virtual studies, and transfer to more traditional forms of education.

4. Lack of Motivation

A stressful student covering his face

Motivation affects student outcomes both virtually and face-to-face. Due to lack of motivation their college grades are lower.

For many people studying on the Internet is the only option, and at first they’ll feel excited.

However, once they’re faced with a high workload, unclear outcomes, and feeling of isolation, the excitement dulls.

A student can lose motivation and transfer to one of in person options for their education.

Are You Ready For Virtual Learning?

While studying virtually is an expanding feature of higher education, people are less likely to have good results compared to face-to-face studying.

Did you ever find yourself in a situation where you had to wonder how to calculate the online course pass rate?

Chances are you weren’t doing a good job in that subject, or the course objectives and standards weren’t clearly explained.

People struggle both online and in person, but in online courses students are less likely to be successful.


  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.576227/full
  2. https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.2015119
  3. http://www.aera.net/Portals/38/Newsroom

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