What Are the Challenges of Remote Learning?

What Are the Challenges of Remote Learning?

The way counselling courses are delivered has changed because of social distancing, and it’s likely this will affect students’ success rates.

Colleges and universities are structuring the courses in a way that minimises face-to-face contact. This means that lectures and classes that would traditionally be delivered in person are now happening via the internet.

Effectiveness of Remote Learning

Students are facing huge challenges never seen before, as research shows online classes are generally less effective than in-person teaching for most learners:

Some students do as well in online courses as in in-person courses, some may actually do better, but, on average, students do worse in the online setting, and this is particularly true for students with weaker academic backgrounds.

Professor Susanna Loeb, Brown University (2020)

So why are online lessons less effective? There are three key reasons for this:

  • lack of teacher training
  • distractions and loss of focus
  • reduced peer support

We explore each of these below.

Although it might feel disheartening and even daunting to think about the likely challenges, it’s good to understand these -- because then you can think about how you will address them, and so give yourself the best possible chance at finishing your course successfully.

Challenges in Remote Learning for Student Counsellors - image shows three arrows pointing at different directions

Lack of Teacher Training

Teacher training is focused on getting student outcomes in a face-to-face learning environment. What works in a physical classroom does not always transfer well to online education.

That’s why Kaupp (2012) found that in Californian community colleges, students enrolled in online classes were generally less likely both to finish and to pass their courses than their peers in face-to-face classes.

When asked, the online students identified the absence of a strong student–tutor relationship as the key difference between their face-to-face and online educational experiences.

Distractions and Loss of Focus

Loeb (2020) writes:

In the online setting, students may have more distractions and less oversight, which can reduce their motivation.

It’s not easy to have to do all your studying from home, where partners and kids might be making noise and making demands, vying for your attention.

Or you might decide you’ll do a few household tasks or watch some TV before getting down to studying, especially when the topic seems a little daunting or doesn’t capture your imagination.

Unlike in the classroom, your tutor can’t see – and so can’t address – what’s going on for you.

Reduced Peer Support

Peer support and feedback are even more vital in counselling training than in other less applied disciplines – because counselling is all about relating to others, feeling the power of others’ empathy, non-judgement and honesty.

And counselling training involves a lot of personal development. We can do some of that alone (say, by journaling) but there’s also so much learning in how others experience us, and how we experience ourselves in relationship with them:

Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes. Multiple reviews highlight the importance of peer interaction during remote learning, as a way to motivate pupils and improve outcomes.

Education Endowment Foundation (2020)

What You Can Do

The challenges described above are common ones encountered by many students on counselling and psychotherapy courses.

Here, we give you some top tips for overcoming these:

  • Research your options for courses at different colleges that are accessible, so that you can choose the one that best fits your needs and learning style.
  • Once you’ve read all the information available online about possible courses and colleges, write a list of any remaining questions you have for each.
  • Contact each college to get the answers to these – you may be able to email or phone the course tutor – or else go via the admissions team, who can put you in the right direction if they don’t have the answers themselves.
  • Consider complementing your formal studies with some back-up support from experienced specialists in online learning, for example from Counselling Tutor via our Counselling Study Resource (CSR).
  • Set your intention and keep your eye on the prize, maybe through a positive affirmation that you say to yourself each morning or before beginning a study session: ‘I am going to finish my course successfully’ or even ‘I will become a qualified counsellor’.
  • Seek out online peer-support networks. For example, you could start a WhatsApp group for your class, and tap into support groups available through your online learning (e.g. the Counselling Tutor Facebook group and – for members – the exclusive CSR Facebook group).
  • Use these groups to network, so building professional connections for the future – you might refer clients to each other one day.
  • Spend some time identifying any other challenges you might face with remote learning, and plan how you will tackle these too.

For more ideas on how to study more effectively, see our article ‘How Can I Study Effectively Online?’.

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Challenges of Remote Learning


Education Endowment Foundation (2020) Remote Learning: Rapid Evidence Assessment, Education Endowment Foundation: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/Covid-19_Resources/Remote_learning_evidence_review/Remote_Learning_Rapid_Evidence_Assessment.pdf

Kaupp R (2012) ‘Online Penalty: The Impact of Online Instruction on the Latino-White Achievement Gap’, Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 19(2), 8–16; https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1001604

Loeb S (2020) ‘How Effective Is Online Learning? What the Research Does and Doesn’t Tell Us’, Education Week: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/23/how-effective-is-online-learning-what-the.html