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13 Differences Between Online and Face to Face Courses

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By:   Robyn Brown     E-Campus Logo

13 Differences Between Online and Face to Face Courses

Difference #1: Online courses are predominantly asynchronous

Unlike their face-to-face counterparts on campus, online courses are predominantly asynchronous where the students (and faculty) each determine when they will engage and participate in their online courses. Asynchronous courses present an advantage to non-traditional students, like parents and working professionals, who need a flexible schedule in order to pursue their education. Additionally, asynchronous courses are also advantageous to students who learn best when they can review course lectures and materials multiple times and through a variety of exercises.

Difference #2: Successful online learners must also be motivated, disciplined, self-directed, and good at time management

Successful students in face-to-face courses must actively listen and participate in class, take good notes, study, and complete coursework. Showing up to class goes a long way to successful completion. In the online environment, without an instructor standing before you telling you exactly everything you need to know to pass the next test or ace an upcoming writing assignment, successful online learners must also be motivated, disciplined, self-directed, and good at time management.

Difference #3: Diverse communication skills are paramount in online learning

In online courses, many learning exercises and course materials involve diverse communication skills such as reading written content, consume video and audio content, and interact with others in a variety of communication styles. ...to new learn content. ...to see how new concepts are applied. ...to understand assignment descriptions. ...to get feedback on your performance. Diverse communication skills are paramount in online learning. While different from it's face-to-face counterpart, which involves more lecture- and dialogue-based learning exercises, the advantage of having diversely communicated course content is that students may read or view and REview the course materials over and over again (as many times as needed), thereby better supporting student achievement.

Difference #4: Students depend even more on the facilitation, assignment clarification, and feedback provided by their instructor

In a face-to-face course, students can plan on getting information and feedback about their learning and performance whenever they attend class. In asynchronous online courses without the live in-person class component, students depend even more on the facilitation, assignment clarification, and feedback provided by their instructor. There are lots of time-saving ways to add frequent and meaningful feedback through using both written and multimedia strategies.

Difference #5: Majority of communication from student-to-instructor and student-to-student involves non-verbal asynchronous correspondence

In online learning, the vast majority of communication from student-to-instructor and student-to-student involves non-verbal asynchronous correspondence largely in the form of email, instant messages, video and audio messages, discussion forums and reflections. While different from a face-to-face course which also involves more in-person dialogue and conversations, an advantage of an online course is that you can generally communicate more ideas as well as clear, comprehensive messaging given that students may view, reread and review again and again. In a face-to-face course, they may have only had that one time it was said during class.

Difference #6: Digital literacy and netiquette is a must

Digital literacy and netiquette is a must - for instructors and for students. You do not need to be proficient at computer programming languages and writing code to teach an online course. But, you do need to be comfortable working within a learning management system and basic computing programs such as email, Google apps and publisher software (such as Word), as well as comfortable with helping students troubleshoot basic technical difficulties. Netiquette (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. is also vital to ensure that you are able to communicate and build relationships with others in a productive manner without face-to-face interaction. While you don't have to be a computer wiz, you should have a positive attitude and an open mind about learning new things and interacting with others in the digital world.

Difference #7: Discussions in the online environment may offer more opportunity for students to think about, research and even draft their discussion posts and responses

Rich and complex student-driven class discussions may be facilitated in both environments, but with distinctly different advantages and disadvantages. Because they are asynchronous and often occur over longer periods of time (even days), discussions in the online environment may offer more opportunity for students to think about, research and even draft their discussion posts and responses. Furthermore, in the online environment, extroverted and introverted students stand on equal footing, which may result in more even, open, and honest discussions.

Difference #8: Online courses are often more personal and individualized

Without synchronized meeting times and places for the whole-class like in face-to-face courses, student engagement in learning in an online course may feel, or even actually be, more personal and individualized than in a face-to-face setting. In online courses, teacher-led lectures and in-class exercises are replaced with student-directed learning options that are universally designed for all learners. Generally, instructors interact with students more frequently on an individual and personal basis, facilitating the learning of each student throughout the course. And, student-student interactions are generally more abundant.

Difference #9: Bring together diverse people, cultures, communities and cities

Comprised of students logging in from all over the nation, online courses may tap into endless possibilities imaginable from bringing together diverse people, cultures, communities, and cities that expand our learning opportunities based on unique experiences and perspectives outside of our physical location.

Difference #10: Multi-dimensional content and learning exercises

When every aspect of learning and engagement in a class takes place in the online environment, it is very easy infuse lots of multi-dimensional content and learning exercises throughout the course, including numerous technology-based learning opportunities. This is different than a traditional face-to-face course, which may rely more heavily on traditional lecture-style delivery of content and classroom-based learning exercises.

Difference #11: Active and frequent participation from everyone

Success in the online environment requires active and frequent participation from everyone. For instructors, writing lesson plans is replaced with preparing instructor presence plans and facilitating learning for students as they each work their way through the course. For students, showing up for class is replaced with scheduling their time to work through the learning exercises of the course and interact with their classmates. Online courses aren't harder and don't require more time, but the way you engage with them is

Difference #12: Instructors aren't on the stage

Class sessions in face-to-face courses are a lot like on-stage performances. There's a script (lesson plan), a dress rehearsal (practicing and preparing your lecture), and a performance (the class session itself). And, if you weren't there to witness it, you've missed the opportunity entirely. In online courses, instructors aren't on the stage. Instructional content can be written and re-written or recorded and re-recorded over and over again until it is effective in meetings it's intended instructional goal. Students can read and re-read or watch and re-watch again and again, as many times as they need until they feel confident that they understand the content.

Difference #13: Instructors role is focused on facilitating student efforts to think critically, apply and make sense of new knowledge

In both settings, the role of the instructor is to teach. Though, teaching in the online environment looks different than teaching in a face-to-face class. All of the information in the world is at the student's fingertips. They can literally open up a new tab and Google the answer. Teaching online becomes less about teaching information and more about facilitating student efforts to think critically, apply and make sense of new knowledge.

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