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Facts: Is Online Learning As Good As Face-To-Face Learning?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: June 22, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: June 22, 2020


Online learning is increasingly popular nowadays, and this trend is here to stay. With more flexibility, self-directed study options, and access to the same instructors and teachers as traditional learning, it’s no surprise that online learning is popular. But is online learning as good as face to face learning? It may be — and may even be more effective in some cases!

What Is Online Learning?

Online learning can be any type of learning that takes place over the internet. This could be a supplemental course, a full degree program, or self study. More times than not, online learning is asynchronous, as students do not have to learn at the same time and place as their instructors are teaching.

What Is Face-To-Face Learning?

Face-to-face learning is the more traditional way of instruction, where students and teachers attend an in-person session at the same time. The instructor leads the class, and usually, students are passively learning.

Empty rows of chairs in college classroom
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Measuring Up: Online Learning vs Face-to-Face

1. Asynchronous Learning vs Synchronous Learning

One of the most significant differences between face-to-face learning and online learning is that face-to-face learning is synchronous, or done at the same time. All instructors and students/classmates are present in face-to-face learning.

With online learning, however, that is not necessary. Online instruction can be either synchronous or asynchronous.

2. Delivering Knowledge vs Facilitating Learning

In face-to-face classes, instructors are usually just delivering knowledge, and then assessing the understanding of that knowledge at a later date.

This is compared to online learning, where instructors are seen more as facilitators of learning — helping their students understand the material through provided online materials.

3. Teacher vs Child-Led Advancement

While both online and face-to-face learning can have components of both student-led and teacher-led curriculum, online study lends itself better to student-led advancement and learning. In online study, students can decide for themselves what they want to dig deeper on, and spend more time learning.

4. Discipline and Self Motivation

Some may say that it is harder to succeed in online education, and that is because you must be highly self-motivated and disciplined. In online learning, no one is keeping you on track — you must be your own motivator, time keeper, and disciplinarian.

5. Measuring Performance

In both face-to-face and online learning, instructors must have a way to measure performance. This is typically done by way of submitting assignments, administering tests, exams and quizzes, and creating points for participation. Participation and class ‘attendance’ is harder to measure in an online learning environment.

University of the People student online learning with laptop
Photo by Buro Millennial from Pexels

Key Differences Between Face-to-Face vs Online Instruction

There are so many important differences between face-to-face learning and online learning. Here are just a few:

Key Differences Face-to-Face vs Online Instruction infographic table by UoPeople

Benefits of Face-to-Face Learning

Face-to-face learning has been the standard way of instruction for centuries. While online instruction is becoming increasingly popular, in-person study may still be the best option for some people. With face-to-face learning, instructors are better able to gauge understanding and interest of students, and it is easier to generate group excitement about a subject. It is also easier to hold students accountable.

6 Reasons Why Online Learning is More Effective

Is online learning as good as face-to-face learning? It may be even better.

1. Students Learn More

Online courses give students full control over what they are learning, so students are able to work at their own speed. They are able to work quickly through areas they understand, and spend more time on areas they do not.

2. Higher Retention Rates

Many studies have shown that retention rates for online students are much higher than for traditional, in-person students. Online learning increases access and makes it more likely that a student can finish a course or program when physical limitations are removed.

University of the People female student learning online with laptop next to window
Photo by Jopwell from Pexels

3. Lower Time Investment

In online learning, students save a ton of time by not having to commute to class. There is also a need by face-to-face instructors to fill the allotted course time, when students could be using that time to work on something more valuable for their learning. In online learning, students are spending less time overall, and making that time towards their education count.

4. Frequent Assessments Reduce Distractions

In a classroom setting there are many distractions, but at home, those same distractions are removed. Online, students’ disruptive behavior is no longer a factor in classroom culture, and there is no need to hold up the lesson for just one student. In addition, many online courses make use of more frequent ‘knowledge checks’ or mini quizzes which can keep students on track.

5. It’s the Green Way to Study

Online learning not only cuts back on paper and electricity use, but also on carbon emissions commuting to a campus. Online courses use 90% less energy and have 85% fewer carbon emissions than traditional, face-to-face classes.

6. Tracking Learning Patterns

Online learning helps educators and instructional designers track learning in ways that face-to-face learning cannot do. Through analytical tools, educators and researchers can see what really works and what doesn’t, and use that information to inform future curriculum and instruction design.

So, you want to know is online learning as good as face to face learning? Just check the facts listed, and we think you’ll find that the answer is… Absolutely.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.