Online Learning versus In-person Learning: The Pros And Cons

Online Learning versus In-person Learning: The Pros And Cons

Online Learning versus In-person Learning: The Pros And Cons

Online learning, also known as Virtual learning, Distance learning or E-learning, is learning method that use the Internet as a medium of interaction. Student attend lessons lessons from anywhere and at any time comfortable to them. Online learning has its advantages and disadvantages over In-person classes.

Although online learning has been around for a while, it has recently become more widespread since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic educators and learners around the world have had to adapt to the new era where the majority of the learning and socialising is done via WhatsApp, Zoom, Moodle, Google classroom, Blackboard etc. In online learning, assignments are submitted online, discussions are held in forum format.

Online education has a lot of advantages but the world was forced into it not by its many advantages but by the need for social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic. Throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been a huge increase in students enrolling for online programs. Whether online learning will completely replace in-person learning when this is all over remains to be seen. In this article we are going to explore the merits and drawbacks of both online learning and in-person or face-to-face learning offer in the traditional classroom.

Advantages of online learning over in-person learning

Online Learning
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Online learning makes education easily accessible

Schooling has traditionally been biased towards in-person learning in physical classrooms. This has had limitations for many individuals who are geographically far away from the schools of their choices. However, with online learning, a student can study in any school, college or university worldwide from anywhere as long as they are connected to the internet.

This opens a path for many potential students who can’t attend in-person classes to their lifestyle and commitments, such as parents, military personnel, or full-time employees. They can gain qualifications through flexible online courses that can be taken in variable amounts of time.

For example:

  • a nursing mother can study her degree and also person family duties all from the comfort of her home.
  • an employed professional can attend online classes while enjoying lunch break at his workplace.
  • an African student can attend Harvard classes and graduate without having to physically visit America.
  • a European student can attend University of Zambia classes and graduate without having to set foot in Zambia.

So, the most obvious benefit of online learning is that education becomes more accessible to many more people across physical barriers.

Online learning allows the students to learn at any pace

Another advantage of online classes they can be designed to be asynchronous so students don’t have to lag with the group class’s pace. Each student can take lessons at their own pace which is a benefit to both slow learners and quick learners.

Online learning is generally cheaper than in-person learning

Conventional education is usually more expensive than online learning because of the in-person costs such as residential costs, dining halls, etc. Online learning is usually cheap because the students creates their own learning environments, such as from the comfort of their own homes.

Disadvantages of online learning

Online learning
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Limited physical interactivity

Interactivity is key to the success of any learning environment. Teachers need to be able to connect with the students in order to identify their needs. This kind of connection is sometimes hard to achieve without spending time with the students in the physical classroom.

The role of the teacher as a supervisor then becomes limited due to lack of physical interaction. It’s very easy for a student to become distant and detached from the lesson without the teacher noticing it. Whereas in in-person classes the teacher can easily notice even the students are no longer active and alert during the lesson.

Limited physical interactivity also take its toll on student’s ability to form working relationships with their teachers. Students don’t really get to know their teachers like they do in physical classrooms. For some students its really difficult to learn something from someone you don’t really know in person.

Online learning depends too much on technology

Unlike in the physical classroom where everything is in real time, online students have to deal with technological problems such as poor internet connection. If classes are delivered through live video conferencing, students without a high speed internet connection can be put at a disadvantage.

Students and their guardians are expected to have some of skills in using digital gadgets in order to be able to access and navigate the virtual classrooms. On the other hand, if teachers don’t have the necessary skills or technological support required to run a virtual classroom then the whole learning experience is put in jeopardy.

Some subjects are hard to teach online

Subjects that require practical learning, such as chemistry and physics, are hard to convert into online learning modules because they are hands-on. Students too have a hard time learning such subjects because of they do not have materials needed to do the practicals at home.

Advantages of in-person classes

Online Learning versus In-person Learning: The Pros And Cons
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Easier for teachers to implement active learning techniques

In-person learning makes it easier for teachers to implement active learning techniques such as discussions, case studies, role plays, etc. Teachers can easily engage students in conversations to extract feedback.

Creates learning communities and relationships

In-person learning creates learning communities and relationships that are not easy to create online. These relationships allow students to discuss lessons during breaks, catch up on weekends to study and work through tough problems together.

Less distractions in the classroom

There are less distractions in the classroom unlike when taking classes online. Online learners learning from home tend to be distracted by household disturbances that can make both the student and instructors loose focus frequently.

Disadvantages of in-person classes

Online Learning versus In-person Learning: The Pros And Cons
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More physical barriers on accessing education

The geographical location or life commitments of a student become physical barriers to accessing education. A student has to be in the same geographical location as the school in order to attend classes. This means that foreign students will have to travel and find residences near the school campus which is usually expensive.

Physical classrooms have limited capacity

In-person classes are limited in size by the capacity of the school’s classrooms. This usually results in many schools only enrolling students within a small catchment area.

Some students are intimidated by crowds.

Some students find it difficult to learn in a full classroom. Such students often find it hard even to speak out in front of their peers and this limits their interactivity and opportunity for providing valuable feedback. For such students it is easier to participate in online class activities where there are not distracted by the physical presence of their peers.

Shy students tend to sit at the back of the class, which can lower their engagement since sometimes they can’t hear the teacher or see the board.


At the end of the day, its hard to say which is better. Each mode of learning has its own pros and cons. But due to the impact of COVID-19, we are likely to see online classes blooming as the creative solution to the health of the world. However, providing online education requires a totally different to the one most teachers and students are used to. Teachers and students who are used to the traditional classroom environment usually find a bit difficult to adapt to the virtual classroom environment. This transition may sometimes slowed down the learning process as students adjust to learning online.

The world had not much time to smoothly transition to online learning when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. As a result many schools transitioned to online learning with content not tailored to the online learning environment. This is unlike the physical classroom system where the content used has been perfected through decades of experience.

The success of online learning is still being assessed and will depend on how much preparation it will take to create and perfect the content used in online learning. That will require a change in some aspects of the curriculum that was used in physical classrooms.

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