Education was heavily affected in the last one year due to the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic. More schools, parents, and countries embraced online learning as students could not go to school for face-to-face learning. Prior, there were numerous debates on whether online learning is better or worse than physical learning. In fact, there are institutions that adopted eLearning and/or a combination of the two approaches before the pandemic. There is a need to review recent literature on the effectiveness of both approaches especially now when a significant percentage of university students in the country were forced to use the former. It is important to note, as Soffer et al. (2017) explain, the debate on the effectiveness of eLearning was often mired with the lack of bulk data on the same.
The new trend of more university students learning online provides significant data that can be used in comparison with the already numerous data on face-to-face learning. Due to the various sources that readily available on the topic, the research will focus on eight peer reviewed articles for the literature review. The research cited will be from reputable journals. It is also important to note that the review is critical for the growth of the field of study. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the advancement of online learning, and the data associated with it, can now be better reviewed due to the bulk data available. It is assumed that because of the fact that a significant number of students who were previously attending face-to-face classes have now also attended virtual classes, more insights on the effectiveness of both can be recorded.
One of the elements that has already been established when it comes to the effectiveness of either eLearning or face-to-face learning is that the latter is perceived more superior compared to the former. Soffer and Nachmias (2018) explain that debates on the topic have focused more on whether online learning is as effective as face-to-face learning. The premise suggests that the threshold has already been met with the tradition way of learning whereas student has to attend a class physically.
In turn, this creates the perception that online learning is an alternative and cannot be a main approach. Existing research shows that a majority of data has been collected from teachers, tutors, and professors as opposed to the learners. Muthuprasad et al. (2021) argue that whereas research has focused on teachers and the learning environment, there is few data on the preferences of students. Critically, learners at university level have the ability to comment on the effectiveness of either online or face-to-face learning.
It is important to note that there are various results and methods that have been used in existing research to figure out whether online learning is as effective as face-to-face. Shu and Gu (2018) note that one method is through the development of a conducive learning environment. One can argue that the fact that scholars have focused more on the creation of a conducive learning environment and pegged the same on effectiveness of a learning system has lowered educational standards all over. This is due to the fact that despite having a great environment, students might still not be able to learn effectively due to the use of a wrong approach.
One area of tension in the chosen topic is whether students have a say in the type of learning approach they can use at university level. For example, a student who prefers online learning is not free to try the approach if the school or even state they are in does not have policies for the same. It can be argued that this is also applicable if a student prefers face-to-face learning. The inclusion of students in some of the factors that affect their learning is, however, key in coming up with viable solutions (Wang et al., 2019). As Nortvig et al. (2018) note, a middle ground has been encouraged based on the type of course and even reading material that is required to determine whether eLearning or face-to-face learning can be most effective. Despite this, the needs of the student have to be considered when making such arrangements.
A second key debate in the topic revolves around class participation. Yilmaz (2019) argues that there have been concerns on low class participation in eLearning as compared to face-to-face education. Critics explain that the face-to-face class allows for other types of interactions that are beneficial to the learning process (Shu & Gu, 2018). For example, mood and non-verbal cues can be noted by the teacher, who then has ample time to adjust the lesson. Critics argue that this is harder to achieve in online learning.
Due to technology, it also challenging for tutors to keep students interested while an online class is in session. Since the students are not physically present, they can choose to participate in other things, such as social media engagements, while pretending to be in class. It should be noted that there has also been debate on whether eLearning and eTeaching are the same. Hodges et al. (2020) note that whereas the two terminologies and methods are not the same, eLearning has been used as an alternative to eTeaching as opposed to face-to-face learning.
It is important to note that existing research has its strengths and limitations. One strength is that there is ample data on face-to-face learning. This has led to the development of better learning environments and the further understanding of the learning process. Critically, existing research on face-to-face learning is extremely detailed due to significant methodologies and also years of studying the topic. It is important to note that all the significant changes in the education sector, including the introduction of eLearning, can be attributed to existing research on education, which was pegged on face-to-face learning. A second strength that can be noted is the inclusion and review of modern learning methods in an attempt to give students the best experience. Thirdly, the documentation of lessons learnt in studies pertaining face-to-face and/or online learning are critical in understanding the two approaches.
On the other hand, one limitation of existing research is that online learning has limited data compared to face-to-face teaching. According to scholars who believe that online learning is better than face-to-face, the debate on effectiveness of one or the other has been challenging due to the fact that there has been limited data on online education. This can be attributed to the fact that many schools had not yet embraced this particular learning method. However, as mentioned earlier, because of the impact of Covid-19 on education, many students across the country and the world relied on online learning for almost one year. This is enough time to collect data and resolve this limitation.
Indeed, there are numerous gaps that exist in research on the effectiveness of either online or face-to-face learning methods. Yilmaz (2019) notes that one such gap is that there is little research on the effectiveness of online learning compared to face-to-face learning based on social class. This gap is critical due to the fact that all students have the same rights to quality education. Social class affects a student’s ability to get the equipment needed for online studying, such as a computer and even Wi-Fi.
It can be argued that one of the reasons both parents and tutors have not been as enthusiastic in studying the effectiveness of online learning is that the approach appears to create unfair advantage for students who are able to afford the needed equipment.
Another gap in the research, as mentioned earlier, is lack of significant literature on the effectiveness of a hybrid model that allows for both online and face-to-face learning. According to Soffer and Nachmias (2018) a hybrid solution might also solve the question of the students’ preferences. Institutions of learning have to push this agenda in order to help students get the advantages of both eLearning and face-to-face teaching. For instance, whereas eLearning also teaches the students independence and accountability, face-to-face classes enhance socialization and interpersonal engagement.
Critically, apart from the social context, there is significant gap in research in administration and management. One has to consider that online learning requires different managerial and administrative approaches compared to face-to-face learning. Proper research will identify which of the two is also best for the stated elements. Gaps in studies on pedagogy and technological infrastructures also have to be resolved in order to give a wider picture of the effectiveness of online learning. This will allow for further and better comparison with face-to-face learning. It should be noted that due to the two mentioned gaps, among others, there is need for further research on this particular topic. The need for further research work is also boosted by the new data that has been recorded at a time when university students across the world had to rely on online learning due to the pandemic.
In conclusion, there is significant debate on whether online learning is more effective than face-to-face and vice versa. A majority of the researches that has already been done has leaned heavily towards the strengths that online learning offers compared to eLearning. However, it is arguable that there has been significantly less data on online learning to compare the two methods effectively. This might change due to the fact that a significant percentage of university students and teachers have now been exposed to eLearning due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. There are various gaps that can be identified from existing research on the topic. It is recommended that further studies be done to resolve these gaps. One such gap is lack of information in administration and management.
Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review, 1-15.
Muthuprasad, T., Aiswarya, S., Aditya, K. S., & Jha, K. G. (2021). Students’ perception and preference for online education in India during COVID -19 pandemic. Social Sciences & Humanities Open, 3(1), 1-9. Web.
Nortvig, A., Petersen, K. A., & Balle, H. S. A. (2018). Literature review of the factors influencing e‑learning and blended learning in relation to learning outcome, student satisfaction and engagement. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 16(1), 1-7.
Soffer, T., Kahan, T., & Livne, E. (2017). E‐assessment of online academic courses via students’ activities and perceptions. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 54, 83– 93. Web.
Soffer, T., & Nachmias, R. (2018). Effectiveness of learning in online academic courses compared with face‐to‐face courses in higher education. Wiley Online Library, 34(5), 534-543. Web.
Shu, H., & Gu, X. (2018). Determining the differences between online and face-to-face student–group interactions in a blended learning course. The Internet and Higher Education, 39, 13-21. Web.
Wang, C., Hsu, K. H., Bonem, M. E., Moss, D. J., Yu, S., Nelson, B. D., & Levesque-Bristol, C. (2019). Need satisfaction and need dissatisfaction: A comparative study of online and face-to-face learning contexts. Computers in Human Behavior, 95, 114-125. Web.
Yilmaz, B. A. (2019). Distance and face-to-face students’ perceptions towards distance education: a comparative metaphorical study. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 20(1), 191–207. Web.