Updated: Jun 18
Online vs. In-Person Class for Learning — What is Best?
Many may believe with the changes in the way students are being taught that there is one medium of teaching that is better than the other. As technology has developed, we’ve been able to connect with people all over the world through apps like WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, WeChat, etc. Needless to say, education has also evolved to connect students and instructors in virtual classrooms.
It’s clear that things are not the way they used to be a year ago, and many have debated whether or not in-person learning is better than online learning. But how do the two compare? Is one really better than the other?
What is the difference?
Online learning is exactly what it sounds like: classrooms and subject materials are all covered virtually. In-person learning is the traditional way of learning, where students attend face-to-face classes at allotted times. Let’s dig into the pros and cons of each type of learning environment.
Pros of Online Classes
Throughout the course of the pandemic, there’s been an increase in students enrolling for online programs. According to InsideHigherEd, women and Black Americans prefer online learning. 60% of Black Americans have confidence in the quality of online education, and 48% (nearly half!) of women would choose to pursue an education online. With so many opting to pursue online degrees, what are the pros of online learning?
Virtual classrooms provide great accessibility for students. This opens the gate for many people who don’t have the means to attend in-person classes or for people who want to go back to school, but may also have other commitments. Online education is great for single parents, military personnel, or full-time employees. Online courses offer the opportunity for a larger group of people to receive formal education.
Online allows self-paced learning and schedule flexibility. For people who do not appreciate the structure of in-person classroom meetings, online learning is a great alternative. Students all work and learn at different paces, and online classes offer the ability for students to follow their own schedules. With flexible scheduling, students and instructors can mold the classroom to what works best for them.
Online learning can be cheaper than in-person learning. Traditional schooling tends to be more expensive than online schooling because there are in person experience costs.. This includes extracurriculars, dorming, dining halls, etc. These are all amenities that students are typically happy to pay for, but as the pandemic continues to persist, the want for that experience has significantly declined. Prospective students now will tend to enroll in online classes for the affordability of a formal education with increased convenience and decreased cost.
Cons of Online Classes
Despite the positive aspects of the virtual classroom setup, there are undeniably some things lacking that in-person classrooms have. It is important to note that regular online classes have a different set of downsides in comparison to online classes that had to shift rapidly due to the pandemic. Certain subjects had a more difficult time modifying to the online realm. Nonetheless, here are some of the drawbacks of online learning.
There’s been an increase in online fatigue. If you heard the phrase ‘Zoom fatigue’ floating around the internet, that’s because it’s very real. After a whole year of online meetings, Zoom meetings, and whatever it may be, it can start to feel dreary. Every live meeting is the same each time with little simulation, so it’s unavoidable that we all will get online fatigue.
There can be a lack of engagement in virtual classrooms. This is mainly because teacher/student or student/student relationships are hard to maintain virtually. It’s difficult to get to know people through video calls, and without a palpable connection, students tend to lose focus during online classes because it doesn’t matter to them. Students are also reluctant to learn when attending online classes because they know they’ll just have to watch and memorize along the way (a.k.a. passive learning). When students do put in the effort to build relationships, they are usually hit with technical issues like spotty Wi-Fi, crunchy mic sounds, or awkward lags.
Certain subjects are hard to accommodate online. Subjects like chemistry, nursing, or culinary arts have a hard time being translated into an online teaching method because, quite literally, those classes are hands-on. Instructors in these fields were not prepared for the abrupt changes of the pandemic, so it was difficult for them to come up with ways to teach their students through a screen. Students, as well, likely had a hard time learning because of the lack of materials they had at home.
Pros of In-Person Class
In person, instructors can actively monitor what is going on in the classroom, from discussions to exams to student relationships. Online learning takes away many of these factors. Let’s dig into the pros of in-person learning.
Being in person in a lecture makes it easier for instructors to conduct discussions, case studies, role plays, etc. When instructors engage students in conversation and see that other students have the same enthusiasm, it naturally pulls them into the conversation to learn as well. Effective communication is key to successful learning.
There can be more community and relationship connection opportunities. Building relationships online is not as effective as building them in person. Connections and relationships can be a great resource or reference, and with in-person classes, they don’t have to feel like they are stuck in uncomfortable isolation. In person classes allow for the before and after chatter in a classroom, catching up on weekends and working through tough problems together. That chatter is what helps students to feel comfortable, even if the subject is challenging for them. Mental health is a critical aspect of education that often gets overlooked, and in-person friendships can greatly reduce levels of stress and anxiety.
There are less distractions in the classroom. At home, when taking classes online, learners tend to be distracted easily. Daily disturbances of the internet or common disruptions at home can make students and instructors lose focus frequently, adding to the lack of engagement. However, when students are sitting in a classroom setting with their peers where they can’t turn their camera off to do something else, they have more of an opportunity to be involved with the lesson because there is nothing else they can do.
Cons of In-Person Class
One of the major disadvantages of traditional in-person learning is that it’s not always easily available to people. This is especially true for higher education institutions. Here are some of the drawbacks of in-person classes.
For some students, their local college may not offer their field of study, but going away for college can be completely out of their budget. This makes learning inaccessible and inefficient. Traditional colleges are expensive, and traveling to out of state colleges is even more expensive, which turns people away from enrolling in either. With online classes, they can find a program that works for them at a more reasonable price.
Going to class can be time-consuming. When attending school in-person, you have to take into account the commute time and lecture length. Many students will have 3-4 classes a day that are at least an hour long, plus additional time to walk, bike, bus, or drive to those classes makes hours of the day disappear. In-person classes are not as flexible as online classes, which can frustrate many students that pay for the college experience, but have little time to indulge. For example, student athletes miss classes quite often due to athletic events, but are expected to keep up with the rest of their class even though their lectures may not be recorded for them to learn the material.
Some students’ learning styles do not align with physically being there. Social anxiety has been a big issue in younger generations, so there is usually a division in bigger classroom sizes. Quieter, shyer students will tend to sit in the back, which can lower engagement if they can’t hear the professor or see the board. In some cases, big group discussions make students feel afraid to speak up, holding them back from fully participating as well.
At the End of the Day, Which is Better?
With all the pros and cons laid out about each type of learning sphere, it’s hard to say that one is better than the other. With increasing advancements in technology, there’s no way to avoid using it in the classroom altogether. Due to the impact of COVID-19, everyone has put the idea of online classes at the forefront of education. Whether it be in-person learning or online learning, both mediums can be great options.
We’ve seen many creative solutions arise, whether it is accommodating alternate in-person courses, shifting rapidly to online, or seeking out hybrid delivery modalities at a faster rate in the last year than ever before. While it is not clear that one modality is superior to the other, what can be seen is that the best way to support academic outcomes is generating active learning communities both inside and outside the classroom.
Yellowdig recognizes that many students do not truly engage in a discussion with their peers through traditional discussion boards, which only further constrains relationship building and effective communication. These two aspects are intrinsic to successful learning, which is why our platform was created to build that human bridge. For Yellowdig, learning should not just happen inside the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.
Want to talk more about building learning communities in your classrooms? The Yellowdig Client Success team is comprised of former teachers who now support the development of healthy communities in online, hybrid, and in person classes.