Towards the end of 2019, the global education system was put into a challenge by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In more than 190 nations, more than 1.6 billion involved in the education system suffered from the progressive closing down of schools, and the shutdown process came at its peak in May of 2020 (Abuhmaid, 2020). Technology appeared to be the only hope for all those involved in the education system as it offered to be the only possible alternative to keep the system going. More and more nations went on to develop generalized and dominant public policies that aimed at using technology in providing online learning as an alternative to in-class or face-to-face learning (Wardany et al., 2021). Indeed, e-learning became an important alternative for the reformation of the education system in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a consequence, this new learning paradigm led to behavioural changes among both teachers and students, altering the learning and teaching styles, assessment methods and many more aspects of education. As a reform, it came with multiple benefits but has led to tensions and frustrations among the beneficiaries of the act of teaching and other education actors (Abuhmaid, 2020). With this regard, this article tries to evaluate and establish whether online learning is a better learning approach as compared to in-class or face-to-face learning. The article entails a literature review on the finding and arguments of different scholars on the debate on online learning versus in-class learning. This article is particularly important in shading more light on the said debate as it compares the findings and arguments of the different scholars.
The findings of Dondorf and Nacken (2016) finding shows that in-class learning is more successful than online learning. Their study made a performance-based comparison for students learning mathematics through online means and students learning mathematics in class. Though there are many approaches for measuring learning progress in the online learning environment, there is a lack of approaches to practically compare different learning approaches. In addressing this gap, Dondorf and Nacken (2016) adopted a direct approach in comparing the performance of 130 students from RWTH Achen University in German who were randomly divided into two groups, one taking online learning and the other in-class learning. All the students were subjected to the same topics, and multiple assessments were done to measure their performance. The findings of the research show that in-class learning leads to better performance as compared to online learning. Dondorf and Nacken (2016) argue that with online learning, there are multiple distractions that affect the student’s concentration in learning and that the teacher has no control over the learning of the students. However, this study is limited in the sense that it was conducted in 2016 when technology was still not very developed to support better online learning.
Gherhes et al. (2021) suggest that there is a mixed preference between online learning and in-class learning. They argue that the teachers and students have felt the ripple effect of online learning during the Covid-19 period, and some of them would prefer to go back to the traditional in-class learning, while some feel that it will be good to continue with online learning. In their study, they exclusively focus on the beneficiaries of the educational process, and they aim at finding out their perceptions on in-class learning and online learning and the desire to go back, or not to the traditional way of education. Six hundred four students from the Politehnica University of Timisoara participated, and they took part in responding to an eight-question questionnaire. The results show that the students are eager to return to school and point out that the students’ involvement is low in online learning as compared to in-class learning. The results have some level of similarity to the findings of Dondorf and Nacken (2016), as they both suggest that in-class learning is more effective as compared to online learning. Both the articles also show that the level of teacher-student engagement is higher in in-class learning s compared to online learning. Although the study by Gheresen et al. (2021) gives a more current comparison between e-learning and in-class learning, it is limited in the sense that it only considers the perspective of students from one university, and this is potentially a small sample size to make valid conclusions.
Darkwa and Antwi (2021) had similar findings to Dondorf and Nacken (2016) and Gheresen et al. (2021), as they also found classroom learning to be more effective than online learning. Their study argues that despite the Covid-19 pandemic shifting learning towards online learning, online learning has long been a common mode of learning in Ghanaian institutions of higher learning. Like the other two, their study aimed at comparing the effectiveness of classroom learning to that of online learning before and after the outbreak of Covid-19. The study participants were from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, and given that it was a case study research, it employed both secondary and primary data. In measuring the effectiveness of the two modes of learning, the study used course content, feedback, interactivity and assessment, and evaluation. The study data were collected using the questionnaire method, and the paired sample t-test was used in analyzing the data using SPSS 2016. The results indicated that classroom learning was more effective and that students exhibited good academic performance in classroom learning than online learning. Although the difference between the two learning modes was insignificant, this study joins the previous studies in supporting the effectiveness of in-class learning over online learning. The study is limited in the sense that it only involved 200 accounting students from one institution, thus limiting the validity of the results for a larger sample size.
According to Stern (2013), the degree of effectiveness of either online learning or face-to-face learning varies depending on different conditions upon which they are applied. Stern (2013) examined the similarities and differences between face-to-face learning and online learning under the American Education Foundation. The study adopted a mixed approach collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. The finds from the study deviate from the finding of previous studies as they suggest that online learning and in-class learning can be equally effective when applied in the right context and the best conditions are adopted. Stern (2013) say that for online learning to be effective, considerations have to be made on time allocated for online learning sessions, students have the responsibility to be familiar with learning styles and the desire and motivation to learn, and the instructor needs to design and monitor how to ensure that all students are kept on track and participate in learning, how student manage time and their organization skills. This study was limited in the sense that it broadly compared online and in-class learning with a particular focus.
Covid-19 brought about a paradigm shift in education as it led to the adoption of online learning due to the closure of schools. This study has successfully looked into literature comparing the effectiveness of online learning and face-to-face learning. From the review, most of the studies agree that in-class learning is more effective as compared to online learning. Only one article suggests that the two can be equally effective if the right conditions are applied for the online learning format. The scholars in the reviewed articles agree that with the in-class learning format, the teacher has better control of the learning process, and the students are better attached to learning than with online learning.
Abuhmaid, A. M. (2020). The Efficiency of Online Learning Environment for Implementing Project-Based Learning: Students’ Perceptions. International Journal of Higher Education, 9(5), 76-83.
Darkwa, B. F., & Antwi, S. (2021). From classroom to online: Comparing the effectiveness and student academic performance of classroom learning and online learning. Open Access Library Journal, 8(7), 1-22.
Dondorf, T., Breuer, R., & Nacken, H. (2016). Classroom vs. e-learning: A case study on the performance of students in different learning scenarios. In 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies, Barcelona, Spain.
Gherheș, V., Stoian, C. E., Fărcașiu, M. A., & Stanici, M. (2021). E-learning vs. face-to-face learning: Analyzing students’ preferences and behaviors. Sustainability, 13(8), 4381.
Stern, B. S. (2013). A comparison of online and face-to-face instruction in an undergraduate foundations of American education course. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 4(2), 196-213.
Wardany, K., Anjarwati, S., & Qulubi, M. H. (2021). Implementation of Online Learning Model in Class X of Senior High School during COVID-19. IJECA (International Journal of Education and Curriculum Application), 4(1), 26-32.