Differences between online and face-to-face learning 

Differences between online and face-to-face learning 

Since the spring of 2020, educational programs worldwide have seen a surge in students who attend online courses. To adjust to the COVID-19 health crisis, many academic programs in the public and private sphere and secondary institutions were forced to create an online landscape that made it possible for students to learn. While online education has continued to rise since its advent more than 20 years ago, the numbers reflect an educational environment where institutions, educators and students see online courses as part of any academic program, especially at the collegiate level.

As of 2020, only 98% of secondary educational institutions have some type of online course. Furthermore, close to 80% of academic administrators report that online learning is equal or superior to face-to-face learning, and 70% of students prefer online classes to traditional in-class courses, with students being able to retain between 25% and 60% more information as a part of an online course than students who participate in face-to-face classrooms. In terms of cost, students can potentially save $10,000 by attending classes online compared to attending classes as part of a traditional program.

Online versus face-to-face learning 

Earning a degree by taking courses online does require consideration, even though online learning comes with several benefits. Typically, an online course or degree program happens mostly over the virtual landscape. Therefore, the student requires a computer or device to submit work, communicate with instructors and students, and take exams.

Also, online courses are usually asynchronous, allowing students to work independently, or synchronous, requiring students to log onto the course shell at certain times of the day.

Finally, these courses are usually part of a learning management system that allows the instructor to provide students with resources, impart information, accept submissions, and grade exams, among other capabilities. All of this makes learning accessible and convenient for non-traditional college students, such as mid-career professionals. For example, Texas Woman’s University offers an online holistic FNP program that prepares mid-career nursing professionals for a career as a nurse practitioner.

Conversely, the traditional face-to-face class requires students to meet with classmates and their professor at certain (consistent) times on certain days of the week in an assigned classroom. In this setting, students can interact and engage both classmates and the instructor. While not as convenient, the traditional face-to-face course allows everyone to be more acquainted with one another.

Other differences between online and face-to-face learning

Both formats provide learners with key benefits. Whether students gain benefits from either ultimately depends on their learning style. When considering both formats, students should factor in a few considerations.

Key difference – environment 

Face-to-face classroom instruction is more structured in that not only do students meet at a certain time in a specified location, but the instructor also takes more control over when students have access to course material and when assignments are submitted. Because students are physically present in the classroom, educators have more chances to engage them through lively class discussions and collaborative learning. Because of the classroom setting, students must be more disciplined.

Alternatively, students take ownership of their education because they have more control over when they complete modules and submit work in an online setting. Furthermore, the online learning environment allows students to pace themselves compared with a face-to-face class, where professors must make sure that all students understand the concepts before moving on to the next ones. Also, because students review course material at their convenience, they can do it from home, in a café, a library, or any place that facilitates learning.

Key difference – course material

The best part of online education is that students have access to vast stores of resources. The online landscape gives instructors the versatility to provide students with diverse types of content – for example, streamed and written content, live chat, community forums, and other vehicles for imparting information. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors are limited to using assigned texts and lecture notes to impart information, and if the educator is not up to date on technology, then they might not make accessible the myriad of learning resources available online.

Final thoughts

Fortunately, today’s educational landscape is such that many universities offer both or a blended (hybrid) version of the two formats. Furthermore, students have options of taking their entire education online or completing their degree program entirely by attending face-to-face classes. Ultimately, when choosing between online education and face-to-face learning, students must work out what format matches their learning style.