Online vs. Face-to-Face Throwdown: Good Teaching Transcends Course Format

In the 2009 report, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, the Department of Education reported that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

While this was a welcome validation for proponents of online learning, the report cautioned “that interpretations of this result, however, should take into consideration the fact that online and face-to-face conditions generally differed on multiple dimensions, including the amount of time that learners spent on task.”

In some ways, because online learning often carries greater expectations and opportunities for interacting with course material and fellow students, an increase in time on task is a natural benefit.

“It’s a tough sell sometimes for teachers to convince students that they need to do more on their own, and I think one of the advantages of online education is that students feel that they have more of an investment [when learning] online and they don’t have you as that learning crutch,” says Ike Shibley PhD, associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Berks.

In the recent online video seminar, Teaching Online vs. F2F: 15 Differences That Affect Learning,Shibley talked about how the online classroom differs from the traditional face-to-face classroom, and suggested strategies for capitalizing on those differences to improve student learning.

Some of the 15 differences he discussed involve:

  1. The nature of student collaboration
  2. The use of writing
  3. Student interaction with content
  4. The value of structure
  5. The need for immediate feedback
  6. The dependence on other professionals
  7. The ease of assessment
  8. The necessity of learning objects

And yet, despite the differences between online teaching and face-to-face teaching, Shibley says the two have a lot more in common than originally believed because, in the end, effective teaching transcends course format.

“Some of the differences are advantages. Some of the differences are disadvantages. But I think they’re differences in degree not in kind,” he says.