Online Learning Environment and Student Engagement


Online student learning refers to engaging students in a virtual class and tackling the academic curriculum through the use of technology-centric platforms. Online learning was previously perceived as ineffective but due to the nature of globalization and the current pandemic, many institutions have embraced it at a significant rate (Alebaikan, 2016). Student engagement may mean a raft of issues such as contributions in class, assignments, feedback on concepts, and other factors (Cole et al., 2019). The purpose of this paper is to present a literature review on the lack of student engagement in online learning.

The areas of literature regarding online student engagement that the chapter addresses include several issues. The review covers literature on the correlation between student engagement and online learning. Additionally, the review will establish the major problems associated with the efficiency of online student engagement. Secondly, the chapter covers how technology leads to the problem. Moreover, the chapter will include the difficulties in learning synchronously, the student engagement with the curriculum provided, and lastly, the student isolation and the impact on online learning. Although online student engagement may not be a problem to all the learning centers, it is a key problem that is being faced by many institutions more than that which had no history of proper curriculum engagement using technology (Hu & Li, 2017). Through the literature review, the reader will be able to spot challenges and opportunities that come during online student engagement among other issues.

Theory/ Rationale

The study’s main research area is investigating the lack of student engagement in online learning. There is a reason as to why the topic is important to the learners, teachers and general school paraphernalia. First, there has been a fluctuation of engagement levels while conducting online classes among many universities due to the complexity and ambiguity that is evident in online studying. Andrew et al. (2021) notes that student engagement in online courses is tedious and comprehensive to understand when compared to face-to-face classroom learning. Citing to Andrew et al. (2021), the reason why there may be incidents of low student engagement is due to the perception that instructors have about the accuracy gauge for student engagement when teaching on the online platform. That may happen often to students who may be taking a technical course such as science, mathematics, and computing. The argument of Andrew et al (2021) is based on university-level education and can contribute for the reader to know why online learning has been a major challenge.

By exploring what the student perceives when it comes to online classes, it gives a basic notion of why there is low online engagement in learning. Bali and Liu (2018) explain how students’ perceptions may create a bug in online education and as a result, rendering the subject to low engagement for the students by the tutors. Their study revealed that most students prefer face-to-face (FtF) learning when compared to online classes. Bali and Liu compared online group and FtF group feedback on how they perceive the subject. The research was done on students in Indonesia Open University, Taiwan branch (Kanojiya, 2020). There is a statistically significant difference in learning preference found among the two levels of students engaged in the study.

Research/ Evaluation

Correlation Between Online Learning and Student Engagement

To be able to understand the problem and the effect on the learners, there is a need to explore the relationship between the two variables; student engagement and online learning. According to Rajabalee et al. (2019), the critical component of substantive online education is ensuring students are engaged effectively. Thus, to determine the performance and success of online schooling, student engagement must be prioritized as a key factor that builds the relationship in learning. The study shows that continuous student engagement in online learning is a vital point in the performance of students in their studies. Therefore, it means for the outstanding performance and understanding of classwork, students must be engaged properly and actively in online learning (Roddy et al., 2017). The two variables complement each other when it comes to the outcome of the study in that, if online learning is conducted improperly, there is a high probability that students will not be engaged.

The student engagement levels in online courses are key indicators of how they will perform independently in class. Therefore, this literature review is important in highlighting some of the ways the online tools might create problems hence help in knowing what to address. Kahn et al. (2017) help realize the student engagement in online learning environments as one way to focus on what might lead to a lack of student engagement on the same. The ordinary mental capacity for students may be different from the FtF when it comes to learning online. Additionally, the delivery of classwork by online tools may restrict the teacher from coordinating some of the random formulas when it comes to teaching. Thus, basing on their argument, student engagement in online learning is affected heftily by the reflexivity and experience of the parties involved (Spencer & Temple, 2021). It might lead to a lack of student engagement because of the time that the parties may require to understand the procedures that are evident in class and other related cues.

Statistics of Online Learning in Modern Society

Despite the adoption of online learning nearly in all the countries, student engagement has not yet reached the required level. Tom (2020) notes that online learning platforms are offering access to school services such as BYJU’S based in Bangalore. By end of 2020, BYJU’S tool utilization had risen by 200% buy the number of students using the product. There has been a successful transition among many learning institutions in terms of management of online courses. For example, Zhejiang University got more than 5,000 courses online two weeks after embracing online learning (Stark, 2019). More than 95% of students in Switzerland and Norway have access to computer for their school work (Stark, 2019). Research show that average students usually retain 25-45% more material when studying online (Stark, 2019). The statistics show that online learning is not a new subject to the world as by 2019, many were aware of it as shown in figure 1 below. Therefore, it gives foundation of what the literature review will be dwelling in terms of lack of student engagement in online learning environment.

Online learning data to students in June 2019
Figure 1: Online learning data to students in June 2019 (Stark, 2019).

Problematic Process in Online Student Learning

Teaching learners by use of online classes has come with its challenges. Although many issues are surrounding the subject, lack of engagement is a key problem that is associated with the online delivery of classwork. (Lesley et al. (2021) admit that the coronavirus pandemic has shifted learning from FtF to online or virtual activities in teaching and learning. The authors agree that although the shift has been adopted by many institutions, there is reduced student engagement which is a crucial prerequisite in student understanding, success, and retentive cognition ability. By basing on Ferri et al. (2020) study on opportunities and challenges that comes with online study, the researchers give an important concept that online learning has been involved with technological, pedagogical, and social issues. First, it is vital to know that the students and teachers who may not be conversant with the globalized digital era may be ineffective in teaching and learning respectively, by use of online tools.

As a result of online classwork and activities, many students who take online classes from home may be challenged by the fact that networking issues may arise. For the tutors, when they note students are lowly active in the class, they tend to be less engaging hence leading to the fact that there is low student engagement in online classes. Unreliability to the internet and lack of stable electronic devices may be key to the problem (Suryaningsih, 2021). For instance, when a tutor notes that some of the students have challenges with accessing live coverage of classes by use of modern online tools such as Kaltura, Zoom, and others, they will not post much about their content as they fear some will be far left behind the curriculum.

Technology and Online Learning

The digital world has been on the verge of embracing the use of machine learning traits in all fields. In education, the intelligence that human beings have might be complemented by technology in several ways. First, technology plays a pivotal role in enlightening learners and tutors about the context framing for curriculum, however, there are challenges that technology may contribute to low student engagement. Citing to Foster et al. (2018), the standards for technology may be limited for some parties especially the groups that relocate in the ridges. The authors note that using video conferences to teach students may make the process tedious and lowly engaging for the parties. Use of online learning has been embraced by many despite lack of student engagement as shown in figure 2 below. For instance, many tools will be slow to have the simultaneous flow of information.

Students responses to access to online learning in 2018
Figure 2: Students responses to access to online learning in 2018 (Foster et al., 2018).

During sessions that require active discussions, a lecturer may be challenged in transitioning a concept linearly to all students as some will not grasp some key points due to technical hitches from their side of the instructor. Chiu (2021) contributes to the subject by talking about self-determination in online learning. In this case, only a few students will be able to contextualize the need to be concrete in following online activities in class. The author notes that language and accent may not encourage most of the students to be active as a result of complexity in understanding. Citing from the two studies above, it becomes ineffective to offer consistency in online schooling as the parties will be dragged by the technological constraints and similar barriers. Thus, due to such problems, the teacher may not be a portion to engage the students properly as they will be ethically questioning the need to be aggressive on the matter.

Difficulties in Learning Synchronously

Synchronous learning involves requirements when students are required to log in to their classes at specific times each week. The process has also an important highlight to consider when studying why there is low student engagement in online learning. Fatawi et al. (2020) researched the effect on online-based concept maps and student engagement. The authors explored why it might be a challenge to learn synchronously minding those students and teachers may be able to create their time for this under a concurrence as shown in figure 3 below. However, from their study, it is clear most of the instructors do not engage students effectively due to the lapse in time when they are required to cover a given topic. For example, having an agreement to have a Zoom class at a given time may yield low student engagement in a number of ways. First, Fatawi et al. (2020) agree that due to contemporary obligations, it is difficult for parties to meet on time as some may be obliged in various ways.

Willingness of students to attend to online lectures in 2020
Figure 3: Willingness of students to attend to online lectures in 2020 (Fatawi et al. 2020).

The fact that students are far from the instructors may make them ignorant to follow what is being organized and coordinated in class. The challenge here comes when the instructor is at a feasible point to organize a class but the students may avail themselves late or never show up (Abou-Khalil et al., 2021). Although there may be policies that guide the level of student engagement such as imposing penalties to students, few will mention and time and active interaction in online classes. Therefore, students who may require to get assistance from their fellows may not achieve that as there is no guarantee for the efficacy during the live classes, raising questions about the need to be synchronous (Combs, 2020). Additionally, online learning may not give a candid framing of ideas as there are time limitations and interaction is low. Due to the problem of low synchroneity, instructors and students may be less active, leading to a lack of student engagement in online learning.

Student Isolation in Online learning

The lack of direct interaction of students and their teachers during online learning may be isolation that can contribute to low levels of engagement for the parties involved. Generally, education requires text-heavy, artificial, and comprehensive interaction for the benefit of readers. Jenkins (2021) makes an overview of how isolation may lead to low efficacy for the learners and instructors. Jenkins notes that the psychological welfare of students is centered on the aspect that inclusion is evident during various class activities. However, a full-online class makes leaner to be at an end where they contemplate alone rather than an interactive one.

Similarly, instructors understand that and they will be feeling the isolation instincts for their students and give straight assignments that may not subject the learners to cumulative study eve (Dixson, 2015). Another aspect to note in this case is that lecturers have perceptions that any task given to the student, they have the freedom to consult online sources even when not required to do that. Unfortunately, the instructors are less driven to give concrete work as they will fear that students will copy ideas without thinking about them. When it comes to the online undertaking of exams, the isolation makes learners have a feeling that they are under pressure alone and may not fully deliver the way it is required.

Students who can use computer and internet in online learning classes
Figure 4: Students who can use computer and internet in online learning classes (Gray & Melanie, 2021).

Under the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a struggle with anxiety and depression for many learners and instructors. Additionally, not all students can can access both the coputer and the internet as shown in figure 4 above. Since that is the only way to conduct classwork, student engagement is lowered because of various issues (Gray & Melanie, 2021). First, when the students are isolated, they may be affected cognitively and fail to deliver during periods when they are required to. Additionally, instructors using online platforms to teach their students may be fast to finish the session as they may want to relax due to the challenges that may be evident for that matter (Jelinska & Paradowski, 2021). Additionally, the notion that online learning is ineffective in contextualizing important aspects of the study makes isolated students feel low and they will yield to poor discussion models and other important aspects in class.

Student Engagement with Provided Curriculum

The standards-based sequence of practicing proficiency in applied learning may also be a key determinant to the level of engagement in online learning. First, subjects have units to cover and when to undertake that as well as how to do it. An example of a chemistry class where the teachers assemble various compounds for practicals may be ineffective if the online tool does not show the simultaneous flow of information (Ke & Kwak, 2013). Therefore, the central guide to educators on various topics will be violated and raise questions on the integrity of teaching. Roddy et al (2017) highlight those teachers and students understand the ethical problem in the administration of curriculum factions. In their study about applying fair online learning, they insist on having a structure that allows flexible offerings in class during the study.

Many instructors who have less experience on how to integrate matters arising may not engage the students wisely hence lead to a lack of student engagement to a significant level (Landrum et al., 2020). For this case, it is substantial to say that literature established in such a curriculum may determine the level of engagement. The critical factors in relation to the curriculum offered in online learning may be the subject contributing to the extent to which instructors engage their students. The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has led to the demand for online degree programs (Lu, 2020). As a result, instructors have many students who take some courses making an intensive interaction that will lead to poor student engagement due to high number.


Student engagement refers to the extent to which students show attention, curiosity, passion, and optimism when they are learning or being taught (Khan et al., 2017). Online learning means that students learn in a virtual setup that may include the use of web-conferencing facilities powered by technology. The main problem that the review was exploring is the lack of student engagement in online learning (Martin & Bolliger, 2018). Some of the factors that may influence low engagement in this kind of learning include isolation levels, the mode of administering curriculum, difficulties in learning synchronously, technology constraints, the nature of teaching in online learning among other issues.

The correlation between student engagement and online learning is linked with the end academic performance. For a student to succeed well in online studies, there must be high levels of engagement in the class (Ferro et al., 2020). The determination of engagement is seen by checking how the learners respond to various issues within the class. For example, if the students lack the cognitive reflection on what they study online, there might be chances of low engagement while learning online, which affects the performance. Students and learners have one aspect to understand when it comes to engagement during online learning (Paulsen & McCormick, 2020). They are supposed to understand the key factions such as determination roles, concept analysis, and positive development in classwork.

The problematic process of online student learning may lead to low levels of engagement. Most of the students feel comfortable with the online learning elements (Martin & Bolliger, 2018). However, they put that due to the required level of understanding that is required, the process might be tedious and complex for understanding basic concepts. The FtF methodology is effective as many students would say (Suryaningsih, 2021). Additionally, it is also important to note that students who lack technology skills may see the model as straining more so if they are required to have compatible gadgets and strong network connections. Thus, the process is complex and leads to low student engagement in online learning for many institutions around the world.

Technology has notably been a key element in conducting online learning. There is a lack of sufficient student engagement due to the challenges that technology comes with. For example, students who have poor tech skills may be at risk of failing to grasp important concepts (Foster et al., 2018). Poor connection, errors in device integration with requirements may be playing a key role in lowering the level of engagement. For example, the use of Zoom class to discuss various class topics may be incompatible with linear discussions that require the transition of answers from one person to another (Chiu, 2021). Therefore, the lack of student engagement in online learning may be influenced by technology constraints in the studying environment.

Synchronous learning affects the level of engagement for online learning. The problem is evident when instructors plan to have class sessions at given times where not many students will be able to match the agreed time (Fatawi et al., 2020). Lack of promptness in meeting for online learning increases the possibility of low engagement in class. For instance, meeting at the preferred planned time may not work for all students and instructors. As a result, other students who may be aggressive to learn from critical analysis views of others will be lowly engaged. The challenge of observing time, honoring deadlines makes online learning to have low engagement issues for many institutions.

The curriculum provided during online learning determines the delivery methods, the mode of feedback from learners, and also the target components in learning. According to the set obligations in some scientific studies, some activities should be offered while using the FtF method, which is ineffective while using online learning (Landrum et al., 2020). Additionally, online learning renders students to other possible activities with their phones or computers hence lowering their engagement levels. Thus, the factors highlighted in the paragraph lead to a lack of proper student engagement in online learning.

Student Isolation during online learning leads to engagement constraints. Leaners who may be having depression and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic may not participate well in class due to their level of destruction (Gray & Melanie, 2021). Thus, lack of student engagement can be termed to be influenced by the isolation aspect where students do not interact with others and the instructor during studying. When isolation is paramount in such learning, there is an increased lack of student engagement in learning paraphernalia.


The literature review has explored the problem of student engagement in online learning environments. From the study, online learning can be affected by a raft of issues that make the engagement to be poor for the learners. The main points that may influence or drive to lack of student engagement in online learning have been discussed in other pieces of literature. First, the correlation between student engagement and online learning is aligned to the performance of the students, which is the key goal for studying. The nature in which online learning is conducted may be tedious and complex which may make the activity demand excess attention from the students. As a result, lack of online engagement may be rampant when students avoid the obligative nature of the procedures.

The lack of student engagement in online learning may be a result of technology defects such as connectivity, device compatibility, and browsing skills. The synchronous aspect of having online learning may discourage most of the students as they will feel fixed from other duties instead of following with the content later. The curriculum matters may be making it complex to determine the right course of action to intervene in rising problems during online learning. Therefore, the above highlights may be contributing elements as to why the lack of student engagement in online learning is rampant in learning environments.


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