Effectiveness of Online and Traditional Education Forms


Education is an ever-evolving field that often endures transformations to provide students with a better learning experience. Technological development, in particular, significantly affected how students today receive an education. Today, institutions at different levels of education offer a vast number of online courses and other resources to make education more accessible to students worldwide. The popularity of online learning inevitably brings into question the effectiveness and sustainability of traditional education. The discussion of the effectiveness of the two forms of education was brought back into light lately as recent events forced most educational institutions to switch to an online form of learning for many of the programs they offer (Sathish et al., 2020). The discussion of whether online education should replace traditional learning was initiated one more time with online learning garnering more support than before with some indication that it is a sustainable form of education. This paper aims to discuss the efficiency of online and traditional education and examine their advantages and disadvantages. The paper will argue that conventional education is more efficient than online learning concerning learning outcomes and student satisfaction.

Defining Online and Traditional Education

Before discussing the effects online and traditional forms of education can have on students and teachers, it is essential to examine what can be classified as online learning and traditional learning. Online learning is a form of education conducted predominantly through technological means and characterized by a distance between learners and instructors (Holmes & Reid, 2017). This form of learning can be fully digital with students and teachers never meeting face-to-face or hybrid with learners and teachers meeting for a limited portion of the course (Holmes & Reid, 2017). The students and the teachers can also meet during videoconferences. In online classes, students have more responsibility for their learning. This form of education is less teacher-centered and allows students to use their learning habits and patterns (Sathish et al., 2020). However, online learning entirely depends on access to technology that some students may not have.

On the other hand, traditional education is less dependent on technology, although it does not exclude its use. Traditional learning incorporates such learning methods as attending lectures and seminars and participating in other activities on campus or school premises (Woldeab et al., 2020). This form of learning is also characterized by direct instruction from teachers to students and learning from observation and direct participation in discussions and other activities (Sathish et al., 2020). Traditional education is more interactive than online education but can be less accessible to people with other commitments. It must be noted that both forms of learning can be implemented at different levels of education.

Literature Review

The effectiveness of traditional and online education and the comparison of the two forms are widely discussed in the research literature. Several research articles were selected for this paper to examine the history of the issue. There are research papers that argue that there is a negligible difference between online and on-campus educations when considering student outcomes and satisfaction. Holmes and Reid (2017) assert that there is no substantial difference in how master’s level students perform in their courses. According to the research, students in both online and on-campus courses perform equally well, and the evaluation shows no disparity in course ratings (Holmes & Reid, 2017). Woldeab et al. (2020) suggest that the differences between the online and traditional learning discussed in previous research stem primarily from poor course design and delivery. Well-designed online courses can be as effective as conventional college courses, especially if there is a right balance between technology and pedagogy (Woldeab et al., 2020). Overall, only a few research studies support the idea that online learning can be more productive than conventional education.

Furthermore, several articles conclude that online education has a damaging effect on student performance and is not as effective as traditional learning. One research study suggests that online learning in high school can result in student disengagement (Heinrich et al., 2019). The authors of the research article note that some students can fail to access online educational courses provided by their school both on and outside the school day (Heinrich et al., 2019). The article also suggests that online education is not inclusive, and students of a low socioeconomic status might be excluded (Heinrich et al., 2019). When employed in high school, online learning is less beneficial than traditional education, as there is little control over the learning process.

Similarly, online courses in college are negatively correlated with student performance. According to Bettinger et al. (2017), taking online classes in college can result in slower progress and an overall educational setback compared to on-campus courses. Inadequate experience with an online course can lead to students considering not continuing their education (Bettinger et al., 2017). Some research articles suggest that there is no correlation between dropping out of college and enrolling in an online program, and other factors need to be discussed (Wladis et al., 2016). Overall, the literature research shows that there are varying opinions on online education on different learning stages, and more research is needed.

Assessing Online and Traditional Education

Online learning is not a new phenomenon, and many students around the world are taking online courses if they find them to be more accessible. Traditionally, online courses are cheaper than similar on-campus options. Thus, many students to whom traditional on-campus courses may not be available due to their financial situation or other factors choose online learning. It should be noted that most online courses are replicate the on-campus in-person courses offered by institutions at different levels of education only with slight adjustments to the digital nature of learning (Bettinger et al., 2017). However, certain aspects of the traditional form of education cannot be replicated online. Learning outcomes and student satisfaction with the education they receive will be discussed to compare online and conventional learning methods.

Comparing the Effect on Learning Outcomes

Traditional and online forms of education can have a different impact on learning outcomes. Those outcomes also differ for students at different levels of education. In high school, online learning can result in students having inadequately developed reading skills (Heinrich et al., 2019). Online courses often rely on audio and video materials to present information with a small proportion of the learning sessions designated for reading and reading tasks. Meanwhile, traditional education allows for the development of many skills, including reading. Bettinger and Loeb (2017) conclude that students with lower GPAs are at higher risk than those with higher GPAs as their grades are more likely to decline after a transfer to online education. Students with lower average grades often need more attention and assistance from teachers. Online learning presupposes a certain distance between learners and teachers, and the support those learners can get is limited. Online students can discuss the issues they have with other learners, but this interaction is also limited. On the other hand, conventional education offers students more opportunities to improve their grades with assistance from teachers and, often, other students.

A similar drop in grades can occur in higher education with students in online courses having power academic outcomes than those in similar on-campus programs. Compared to their peers in traditional in-person programs, students taking an online course are more likely to earn a lower grade when studying the same subject (Gray & DiLoreto, 2016). According to Bettinger et al. (2017), on average, college students taking online courses experience a 0.44 point drop in grades (Bettinger et al., 2017). Lower grades received online can translate into lower marks in any future class students decide to undertake (Bettinger et al., 2017). Most college courses build on the knowledge students learned previously. Lower grades can indicate that the material discussed during an online class was not absorbed, and that can impair further learning significantly. Moreover, online college courses can result in students deciding to take fewer credits in the future or de-enroll from college (Bettinger et al., 2017). Numerous factors can affect the decision to leave college after taking an online course, with the drop in grades and little oversight and assistance from professors being the main contributors.

Comparing the Effect on Student Satisfaction

Student satisfaction can play an essential role in higher education. Students who enjoy the course design, the quality of the material they are offered, and communication with instructors are more likely to continue their learning further and have better learning outcomes. Online learning can have a negative effect on student satisfaction at different learning levels. According to research conducted by Holmes and Reid (2017), students taking online classes show a significantly lower rate of satisfaction with the instruction as compared to students attending a traditional on-campus course. The distance between instructors and students is characteristic of online learning. This distance can translate to students believing that their teachers are not open to them and not interested in their progress and achievements. All the students have individual needs and expectations of their instructors, and digital learning can create a gap between the expectations and reality.

The higher responsibility that online students have for their learning in online classes can lead to failure to communicate with instructors. Students may believe that any problem they encounter in an online class is their responsibility and not seek advice from the instructors assigned to the course. Teachers working with online and traditional courses also point out the lack of interaction between students and instructors that can take place in online learning (Woldeab et al., 2020). Furthermore, online education does not allow students to develop their interpersonal skills further as interaction among learners and between learners and instructors is minimal (Woldeab et al., 2020). Thus, in courses where the development of soft skills is crucial, online students are put at a disadvantage compared to students attending a traditional class. Overall, online education’s digital nature has a drastic effect on the way students and teachers interact, and questions and issues that can be resolved in a traditional class can persist in an online one.

Students can also experience dissatisfaction with the content and quality of the online course more often than traditional ones. Gray and DiLoreto (2016) state that student satisfaction with the course is strongly correlated with the course structure. If an online course is poorly designed, students are more likely to disengage from the material they are offered. This disengagement can be reflected in students’ grades and intention to continue education. The research conducted by Holmes and Reid (2017) shows that students taking an online course are more likely to be dissatisfied with the quality of its content and the evaluation and grading systems. This can stem both from poor design of the course and lack of communication with the course instructors. In a conventional class, teachers can assist students with any content-related issues. However, in online class instruction and time for communication with teachers are limited. Overall, online learning has many disadvantages that affect students learning outcomes and satisfaction. Nevertheless, online learning, as a concept, should not be abandoned but rather re-worked and improved to provide accessible educations to the students who cannot access traditional education.


In conclusion, today, both online and traditional forms of education are common. Online learning makes education more accessible to students who cannot attend classes in person. However, many online courses follow the structure of traditional classes but cannot replicate the same beneficial effects. Compared to traditional education, online learning has a negative impact on student satisfaction and learning outcomes at different levels of education. Due to the inherent distance from teachers, communication between learners and instructors in online education suffers significantly. Thus, students taking online classes can be dissatisfied with the quality of instruction they receive and the instructors’ perceived disinterest. Online students experience worse learning outcomes than students enrolled in traditional in-person classes. Students in conventional on-campus courses earn better grades and are more likely to continue education than those taking online classes. The design and material of online courses can also contribute to students’ dissatisfaction more than the design and content of traditional courses. Overall, traditional education remains to be the most effective form of education, and online courses need to be further developed to become more efficient.


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