Education: On-Line or Face-to-Face

What is on-line education?

It is a form of distance learning or a mix of on-line and face-to-face, sometimes known as blended learning. Some teachers and institutes have been using this method already, reaching out to a wider audience to teaching students across the globe for many years.  During the Covid-19 Pandemic, there has been a large increase for teachers to move their lessons to the on-line learning environment.  Learners have also had to adjust and learn new technology, set goals and manage their time, understand new learning strategies, use and find resources linked to their course of study.

What do learners need in order to access lessons?

Students need internet connection, technology, a physical space to learn whilst being aware of noise and disruption within their study surroundings.  There are two main settings, the formal setting such as a College, School or University, more classroom based, with a set of expectations, resources and materials which are used according to that institute’s procedures.  An informal setting can be anywhere else such as a café, home, park, etc.  During Covid-19 Pandemic there was a shift from formal to informal settings which allowed a degree of flexibility in how and where learners study, they have had to learn to adjust to this new situation as well as find their own resources and manage their time.

Does learning need to take place in a Classroom?

In the classroom environment, the learning takes place in a fixed space or location, with our teachers and peers who act as support with a particular order to the style of delivery of lessons.  If we look beyond the traditional classroom for other learning environments, learning can become a richer experience, for example, we could learn geography or biology by studying local rivers, landscapes and hills, undertake some individual research into our local geographical area and then compare it with another.  If studying history, visit a museum or watch a play.   Other people outside the traditional classroom can also shape our learning experience, teachers supporting on-line lessons together with parents and friends.  Sharples (2015) talks about the personal and social features of experience and how we can understand more by exploring the world, creating an awareness and gaining a different perception though interacting with our locations and experience, then taking the knowledge and applying it in the context in which we know and are familiar with, can sometimes make more sense and improve our understanding.

Do students prefer on-line or face-to-face?

There appears to be both advantages and disadvantages for on-line and face-to-face in all settings.  A research study was undertaken across a large sample of 2196 higher education students from Austria where Paechter & Maier (2010) found students appreciated on-line learning lessons and supported their studies with resources, time and self – management, but preferred face-to-face for communication purposes and shared knowledge of the subject.  Goh, et al (2017) found similarities where students experienced satisfaction with e-learning, but this depended on course design, an interaction with both lecturer and other peers and these factors led to positive learning outcomes.

What is the future of on-line learning?

Many teachers and students have found benefits of taking their teaching and learning on-line.  With both having to learn new skills, become more computer literate using a variety of tools and digital platforms, work within our own time frames and structures. As on-line education is advancing in innovation, not all teachers can see the benefits and may lack the motivation to change and adapt to an on-line environment.  Maybe the future of on-line education won’t replace the traditional method of teaching but will become an essential part of it.  


Paechter, M & Maier, B (2010) On-line or Face-to-Face? Students experience and preferences in e-learning, internet in Higher Education, 13, 292-297

Sharples, M (2015) H2FM881: Teacher Training: Creating Courses for adult learners.  Available at your learning context/2.3 (Accessed: 24 July 2020).

Goh, C, Leong, C, Kasmin, K, Hii, P, Tan, O (2017) Journal of E-learning & Knowledge Society. Vol. 13, No 2, 2017

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