Online Learning vs Classroom Learning

Online Learning vs Classroom Learning | New Solutions

Online learning or classroom learning, is one really better than the other? Or, do we see the benefits of using both in a blended learning environment?

This article will test online learning vs classroom learning to see who comes out at the head of the class.

What’s the future of education?

Plus, what lessons have the global pandemic taught the corporate world which can be applied to traditional classrooms? Is there a willingness to evolve?

Educational Change On The Horizon?

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Which Is Better Online Learning vs Classroom Learning?

Although studies have shown online learning to be just as effective as traditional classroom learning, the real-world results during the pandemic seem to tell a different story. At the K-12 level, student absenteeism was up sharply, and the average math achievement was below grade level in spring 2021 as reported by

Schools were forced to move to online learning due to the pandemic, and teachers were mostly told to “do your best”. UNESCO reports that 1.5 billion students were affected by pandemic school closures.

Many have adapted well and learned best practices for teaching online. The point is, online learning should be well planned out before implementation to be most effective.

So what’s the answer to the question?

Online learning vs classroom learning, which is better, is the wrong question to ask. We should be asking how to achieve the best learning outcomes for students.

In other words, what skill sets are important to impart to younger generations, and how do we design quality instruction modules to meet that goal.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

-Chinese Proverb

Regardless of the delivery method, students of all ages need to be engaged, active participants in their learning, not just “taught to the test”.

Until technology advancements create a tidal shift in education, younger students may be better suited to the classroom. At least until they reach a level of maturity and independence for the discipline required of online learning.

Online learning and classroom learning both need to adapt through continual improvements( technical and non-technical) aimed to interact more effectively with students. The future of education looks to be more of a blended model where technology and teachers combine to educate students.

Online learning can be great for its flexibility, while classroom learning can excel in teacher/student interaction. Perhaps a Flex or blended model is better.

How Is eLearning Different From Classroom Learning?

In regards to K-12 education, eLearning was hastily cobbled together due to the pandemic shutting down classrooms and school districts needing a viable alternative.

E-Learning implementations across most school districts were chaotic and stressful for educators, staff, and students alike. In time though, teachers learned important tips, tricks, and techniques in providing the best eLearning experience they could offer for their students.

E-Learning offers the promise of greater flexibility for the student to learn at their own pace and check-in with the teacher periodically. Greater autonomy is a plus for the student with enough maturity to handle it.

Another difference with eLearning is its more student-centered design. Student-centered learning relies on the student to be an active participant and provide communication and feedback. For example, uses active learning in its guided problem-solving-based courses in math, science, and engineering.

Get students involved.

The student can’t just sit back and take notes, being engaged is vital. It should be noted that effective classroom learning/management incorporates this style as well. It’s just that the traditional classroom was a teacher-centered design. Times have changed.

What Is A Traditional Classroom Learning Environment?

Classroom learning has evolved over the years, but traditionally it is a teacher-centered model where students sit and listen to the lessons of the teacher standing in front of the class.

Newer approaches have switched this model around a bit where students are more engaged and interactive in their own learning.

What about teaching style?

Deciding if a student-centered or teacher-centered classroom is best depends upon the teacher and the students. As with everything, the answer is usually more complex and a blended approach can be tailored to meet the needs of all students.

Online Learning vs Classroom Learning Pros And Cons

We’ve talked about the different styles of learning, now let’s look at some of the pros and cons of online vs. classroom learning.

The tables below give you an idea of the differences and challenges faced between online and classroom education and are geared primarily towards K-12 grades.

5 Online Learning Pros5 Classroom Learning Pros
Student-centered approachImmediate feedback from the teacher
Self-paced learningPeer connections, socializing
FlexibilityOrderly Classroom, fewer distractions
Communication skills developedMore structure, routines
Interaction and collaborationLearning retention
5 Online Learning Cons5 Classroom Learning Cons
Student isolationTeacher-centered approach(traditionally)
Less social skills developmentBoredom for some students
Easier to cheatLess flexibility
Less feedback from the teacherStatic learning pace
Technical/connectivity issuesLess choice

As I noted above, times are changing. Technology is being integrated into classrooms like never before providing what is known as technology-enhanced learning environments (TELE).

This use of technology in classrooms can be looked at as blending the online and classroom learning models together.

Online Learning vs Classroom Learning For Elementary Students

Most research I’ve seen professing the effectiveness of online learning was conducted on university-level students. Online learning for elementary students brings up a whole different set of challenges and issues.

Not a lot of published research looks at how effective online learning is for elementary school students. The online learning pedagogy varies among school districts making it difficult for proper comparison and evaluation.

One report compiled by June Ahn, Ph.D. of New York University, and Andrew McEachin, Ph.D. of the RAND corporation, shows “online learning elementary students may not be learning at the same rate as their peers in traditional public schools and charter schools“.

They also show that already high-achieving students perform better than lower-achieving peers online, but still not as well as they would in traditional schools.

In addition, they stress that to educate online students more effectively, the online curriculum should pair improved technological content delivery with innovative teaching styles.

Finally, the diverse academic and social backgrounds of students have to be considered in the development of effective online learning programs.

In-person learning and elementary school students.

It should be no surprise that the majority of elementary students find in-person classroom learning to be more effective than online learning. Technology is already in classrooms, but advancements will certainly blur the line between online and classroom learning creating a blended model.

The pandemic introduced chaos into education, resulting in hastily structured online learning for K-12 students. Results showed absenteeism, and grade performance suffered at a high rate. Doubtful that it is fair to judge those results alone in the whole scope of online learning.

classroom learning

Online Learning vs Classroom Learning Statistics

A 2005 study by Jessica J. Summers, Alexander Waigandt, and Tiffany A. Whittaker compared student achievement and satisfaction in an online vs face-to-face undergraduate statistics class.

These are their results:

  • No significant difference in grades between the online and traditional classrooms.
  • The online students were significantly less satisfied than their classroom peers. reports that “54% [of students] indicated they were very satisfied with in-person instruction only, compared to 29% who indicated they were very satisfied with at least some online instruction“.

In regards to K-12 students, it was concluded that more effective delivery of content paired with innovative teacher support is needed to improve online learning results. There is also a need to examine how online learning affects subpopulations differently and what those conditions are.

What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing Online Education Today?

K-12 and college students face challenges when it comes to effective online education today. While there are similarities among the two groups, certain unique challenges arise for each of them.

Here is a list of the biggest challenges both K-12 and college students face with online learning:

  • Technology access/issues – Any technology issues affecting the student’s access are a major concern. Reliable WiFi, laptop, and internet are a must for any online student.
  • Staying focused/distracted – It is entirely too easy to get distracted and lose focus while online at home. Discipline is required from the student.
  • Proper time management/scheduling – Creating a schedule or routine helps the student stay on task to work on the current assignment.
  • Understanding assignments from teacher/professor – A student’s lack of understanding of the assignment while online can make them feel isolated and not want to ask questions.
  • Peer interaction/collaboration – The lack of interaction with teachers and peers can lead to a lack of confidence and/or self-worth.
  • Cheating – It is easier for a student to cheat while they are online and able to multi-task.

The list below shows the unique challenges K-12 students face with online learning.

  • Confidence – Young students can lose their confidence being isolated behind a computer screen. Interaction is important as well as checking in with them.
  • Parental knowledge/support – Parents need to understand the technology being used to ensure the student has proper access to the classroom. Although, even young kids seem to understand how to connect all by themselves.
  • Engagement – Young students get bored and lose focus easily. They need to take breaks from sitting at a desk often and move around.
  • Creating a routine – A routine is important for young students so they know what is expected of them and when.
  • Student participation/asking for help – An isolated child may not ask for help so it’s important to get their participation.
  • Socioeconomic/academic backgrounds – Every student is different, care needs to be taken according to the diversity of student’s needs.

How Can e-Learning Be Used In The Classroom?

Bringing eLearning into the classroom is occurring more often today with the introduction of tablets and computers. This integration of the two is helping to create blended learning.

Blended learning or hybrid learning as it is sometimes called, aims to incorporate face-to-face interactions with teachers and or peers, with online resources. These resources are something the student works on at home, while the classroom is for discussion, lab work, or questions.

Bringing eLearning into the classroom can be done using innovative approaches. The teacher can split the class into groups where one group is doing online work. The teacher then can interact with and answer questions from the remaining group.

Online learning the future

Is Online Learning The Future?

As we’ve seen in the business world, I think online learning will arise somewhat parallel with the work at home model. Both will look like a blended approach.

Not only learning at school or online but a blended combination of both.

A blended model incorporates online technology and resources into the more traditional classroom model so they can work together to provide more individualized teaching.

While online learning will definitely be part of the future of learning, schools will continue to bring technology resources into the classroom. Students working in class with teachers or peers as well as using online resources will be the norm.

Classrooms will be more open and flexible and students will have better flexibility with self-paced learning systems. Think about AI in the classrooms to bring virtual assistants or tutors.

The hope is that education will be tailored to fit the individual needs of each and every student. A high-achieving quick learner won’t have to wait for others to “catch up”, and a student who needs additional instruction will be able to get it either from the teacher or a virtual resource.

Can Online Learning Replace Classroom Learning?

Online learning will not replace classroom learning. Online learning will continue to be an important option for a student, but classrooms continue to evolve and innovate as they bring technology into the mix.

Teachers will continue to prefer classroom learning because face-to-face is still a superior educational experience and teachers’ interaction with their students is immeasurable.

How Do I Prepare For Online Learning?

To prepare for online learning first make sure your internet and WiFi access is stable as this is critical. Also, create a calendar and schedule to help you keep track of your class times, organization is important.

Be engaged, reach out to the teacher and other students for group sessions and feedback. Don’t be afraid to interact and ask questions.

Finally, try to stay motivated and not overwhelmed by breaking school assignments up into separate smaller tasks. This helps you feel some accomplishment and a sense of progress.


As we’ve seen online learning vs classroom learning is not the correct question. Both will continue to play a part in a student’s academic career. Moving forward the classroom will be more of a blended model incorporating additional technology and virtual resources. The goal as always is to provide the best education for every student.