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Face to Face vs Online Learning: Which is Better?

Face to Face vs Online Learning

The world we live in today is one lived online. We socialize with friends, go shopping, consume entertainment, and increasingly, we’re learning online. From kindergarten to corporate training, we are educating ourselves online.

Remote learning is a convenient, accessible, and interactive way to get your workforce trained on a consistent basis.

It’s not without debate that remote learning is a positive thing, however. Instructors and students alike have been debating the merits of face-to-face vs online learning for as long as remote training has been available. 

We’re going to set the record straight on this contentious subject and get to the bottom of the differences between face-to-face vs online learning, and go over the benefits and drawbacks of both.

Face-to-face vs Online Learning 

As opposed to informal socialization methods, education focuses on forms of teaching and learning in schools or school-like environments. Since ancient times, we have sought to transmit values and the accumulated knowledge of our societies to others. That is true still today – the difference is that we have access to tools and methods that extend learning beyond a traditional classroom format. 

Having spent millennia learning in traditional classrooms, you can understand why some would be skeptical about online learning vs face to face learning, so let’s get into what each kind of learning is, and how it typically works.

What is Face to Face Learning?

Traditionally, face-to-face teaching involves lectures, capstones, team projects, labs, studios, and assignments. Participants learn synchronously in a physical classroom, where learners and educators can interact face-to-face. In this setting, it's thought that instructors can motivate learners as much as learners can motivate them.

Face to face vs online learning requires several things to be true:

  • A physical location big enough for your team
  • The time to hold regular in-person sessions
  • The budget to hire instructors or guest speakers
  • Your team to be able to travel to a physical location
  • A safe environment to teach in
  • The right tools to teach effectively

The global pandemic that we have lived through has brought one of those requirements, safety in the physical environment, to the forefront. Educators, businesses, and students have needed to go remote to avoid the spread of infection, making in-person learning nearly impossible.

What is Online Learning?

eLearning, or online learning, means students learn virtually, completing assignments, working in groups, and attending lectures online. With the advent of the internet and distance learning, online learning became prominent in higher education first, allowing students from different parts of the world to interact with academic institutions and other students online and learn flexibly, at their own pace. 

It progressed to become a standard for employee training as we entered into the new millennium, and today is one of the most popular formats to onboard employees and upgrade their skills. 

Online learning is typically hosted on an LMS, or a learning management system. Think of it as where all the content, information, media, and reporting data are stored. Students log into a learner portal to access their modules, lessons and live video lectures. 

The table below gives us a quick overview of the differences between online learning vs face to face learning.


Online Learning

Face-to-Face Learning


  • Highly Flexible, learners can choose when to consume material
  • Tied to physical locations and times


  • Reduced physical costs (no need for space, time, instructors)
  • LMSs typically have a monthly cost
  • Physical costs for materials and space 
  • Costs of having employees miss work
  • Travel costs for employees

Content Delivery

  • Learners can consume a wide variety of content and media to complement learning
  • Material is accessed by logging into the learner portal
  • Instructors need to physically provide assignments and materials
  • Learners all consume the same content, in the same manner, at the same time


  • Learners can submit digital assignments, complete quizzes, and tests, and participate in group discussions and forums
  • Learners typically complete a pen and paper test or quiz, with other kinds of written assignments occasionally being utilized in-class
  • In-person labs and hands-on activities are often incorporated


  • Learners can participate in breakout groups, social networking, video classes, and messaging tools
  • Learners meet physically and can socialize between lessons, and during activities

4 Main Differences Between Online and Face to Face Learning

Main Differences Between Online and Face to Face Learning

While both serve to educate a group, online and face to face learning are very different from each other. Not only in instructional design but how the course is delivered and administered.

There are four main differences between online and face-to-face learning:

  1. Course pace and instruction model
  2. The learning environment itself
  3. The function of group work and collaboration
  4. How assessments are delivered

Let’s get into each one in detail.

Difference #1: Course Pace 

One of the main differences between online and face-to-face learning, is how students interact with their instructors and with the subject matter. The traditional way to learn face-to-face is in real-time, while eLearning is both synchronous and asynchronous. When you teach in a physical classroom, you interact with your students in real-time, while online, you can give real-time lectures via streams and Zoom calls, or you can record your lectures for your students to watch later.

Students can take the information in at their own pace with asynchronous learning, which takes the stress out of the process and helps them progress through the curriculum without fear of missing out or getting left behind. 

Difference #2: Learning Environment

Another one of the differences between online and face-to-face learning, is the role of the instructor and how that impacts the learning environment. Many physical classrooms are passive learning environments. In a traditional lecture-style class, the instructor gives the students information through lectures and handouts, and then the student is often expected to repeat the information back to the instructor through an assessment. Learners and instructors are both able to see, hear, and pick up on physical cues and body language.

Alternatively, an online classroom usually fosters a more active learning environment. Students must actively seek information. Learners need to navigate lessons and modules individually and can seek extra information about the topic they are studying. Asynchronous online courses present the problem of not being able to see the instructor or other students in real-time exchanges. Virtual classrooms with video conferencing can overcome this problem. LMSs like Tovuti offer built-in features that allow users to raise their hands, share reactions, comment, and ask questions within the interface.

Difference #3: Group Assignments & Collaboration

Face-to-face training lends itself well to group work since learners are physically present at the same time. Collaboration can take place during class time, and scheduled meetings can help learners continue working together after the class ends. However, this can be a difficult balance for many professionals, and with conflicting employee schedules, it can feel like a burden to learners to take the time to meet up. 

Online learning involves group work as well. By using tools built into LMSs like Tovuti, instructors can break their online learners up into teams to work collaboratively on projects and interact. 

Examples of tools that can be used in online learning vs face to face learning:

  • Forums
  • Breakout rooms
  • Chats and messaging
  • Social networking within the LMS
  • Video conferencing

Thanks to the asynchronous nature of online learning, group work components can be completed individually at times suited to employees. They can also participate in the social aspect of online learning, like using forums, on an ongoing basis. This allows your team to become active learners that share knowledge and key takeaways together in one place.  

Difference #4: Assessments & Assignments

How learners are assessed for their knowledge and skills is another key difference between online and face-to-face learning. Assessments are generally administered face-to-face in the classroom during regularly scheduled class time. Students are usually monitored during the exam period, which lasts for the length of the meeting. The assessment is typically reviewed in a second in-person session. The types of assessments given through in-person training and learning are generally limited in nature and can be more about memorization and rote learning than application. 

If the instructor has not announced otherwise in advance, exams and quizzes are conducted online. Students typically have a limited window of time during which they can begin taking an online exam or quiz, which is usually timed. A student may have between Tuesday and Friday to take a test, but once they begin, they only have 40 minutes to finish, and they will be kicked out of the test interface when the time runs out. 

One of the benefits of eLearning is that it can tap into both rote and purposeful learning. Meaningful learning is understanding how all the pieces of an entire concept fit together and helps learners become more engaged. LMSs like Tovuti offer instructors a myriad of ways to encourage students to become interactive. One example is the ability to have interactive elements pop up throughout an online lecture or video. That way, you get a temperature check from your learners the whole way through a course, not just at the end.

Pros and Cons of Face to Face Learning 

Face to Face Learning

Before you decide on a method to train your team, you need to know the pros and cons of both in-person and online training and take a look at some online learning vs face-to-face learning statistics to back up your choice. 

Benefits of Face to Face Learning 

Socialization is a major advantage of the in-person classroom. Learners get to interact with their peers and practice their social skills when they spend a session in a traditional learning environment. In addition to socializing with peers, learners get to interact with their teachers. It is also helpful for teachers because reading student body language is essential when instructing. In this way, teachers can determine whether a student is having difficulties learning the material. If necessary, teachers can explain the material again, so it is more clear.

In-person learning allows students to pay more attention and learn better because there are fewer distractions. In-person learning also allows for equal access to instructors because it does not rely on the student having their own devices and good internet access. 

Disadvantages of Face to Face Learning 

As many benefits of face-to-face learning that there are, there are certainly drawbacks to this training format. One of the major disadvantages is that the physical nature of the training is restrictive and inconvenient. Learners must attend a session at a specific time and place, affecting both their work and life schedules. 

Something else to consider is the travel time and cost of in-person training. Bringing all employees to one center is not only a scheduling nightmare but can be very costly, too. Hotels, speakers, banquet rooms, flights, and catering -- the list goes on. In addition, once that training ends, it ceases to exist as a resource for your employees to review at a later time. Investing so much time and resources into in-person training could be seen as a waste since people forget over 70% of what they are taught after a single day. 

Pros and Cons of Online Learning 

Online Learning

Let’s look at the pros and cons of online learning next, so you can decide which method is best for your team.

Benefits of Online Learning 

Employees want flexibility today. According to one study, employees who have flexible work arrangements report greater job satisfaction. Online education has the advantage that it accommodates any schedule. By providing employees with a flexible work option, companies won't have to worry about employees' schedules affecting the training process because they can log in whenever and wherever to complete training. 

Another aspect of online training that is advantageous is that learners can re-access materials as often as they need to. In an LMS, resources are stored in a database that can be accessed at any time. Choosing a platform like Tovuti provides you with a user rating system that shows the most popular content first on the dashboard for ease of access, saving users time and energy searching for a specific piece of content. 

Also, a key benefit of online training is the ability to report and analyze how your employees are learning. In-person training does refuse you to review learner behavior under a microscope as eLearning does. 

Tools like Tovuti give you robust reporting and analytics, something online learning vs face to face learning provides, such as

  • Course completion
  • Course log on activity
  • Average grades and scores
  • Certification data
  • Revenue from subscriptions
  • Total user numbers

Other benefits of online learning vs face to face learning are outlined in the table below.

Online Learning Benefit


Saves Money

No travel expenditures and no missed employee time off

Reduces Time Spent Learning

Employees spend 40-60% less time completing eLearning than traditional learning

Learners Work at their Own Pace

Learners can utilize mobile learning to take training on the go or complete it in small amounts over a longer period of time

Can Reach Remote Workers

Remote work is increasingly the norm, and reaching geographically distant employees is simple with online learning 

Makes Training More Regular

The flexible nature of eLearning allows for regular learning through microlearning, bite-sized lessons perfect for daily practice

More Accessible

One out of three employees with disabilities require some form of accommodation, and eLearning offers accessibility tools so all learners can access content equally

Disadvantages of Online Learning 

While there are numerous online learning advantages, there are a few drawbacks to consider. 

For learners in rural home areas or those without personal devices, it can be nearly impossible to access online learning. And considering workers are leaving urban areas in droves, ensuring all learners have a solid internet connection and modern devices is key to the success of the program. A simple solution to this is to provide employees with technology stipends or equipment itself. This ensures your learners have equitable access to their learning.

Another drawback to online learning is the challenge of socialization. Online learners cite problems feeling connected to their peers and instructors when they participate in eLearning. However, this can be overcome using tools like Tovuti that enable social interaction online. Tovuti offers communities and forums where learners can interact with each other in an environment similar to a social networking site. 

4 Reasons Why Online Learning is More Effective

Reasons Why Online Learning is More Effective

Choosing online learning means choosing more effective learning for your employees.

When comparing face-to-face vs online learning, eLearning is more effective for the following reasons:

  1. Improved retention
  2. Promotion of long-term learning and skill development
  3. It is flexible for learners
  4. It can reach remote workers

Reason #1: Retention

The purpose of training, is often to cement new skills. You need employees to consume content and practice skills in a training environment, then apply them to daily work.

But what happens when employees don't even remember what they learned after they leave the training session?

You waste precious time and money and see no improvement in your business. It's like going back to square one!

Online learning vs face to face learning statistics tell us that you can increase training retention by incorporating eLearning. This format can boost retention rates by more than 50 percent, while traditional training can only achieve retention rates of 8 to 10 percent. That way, you know your employees will be able to take their new knowledge forward and apply it to success in your organization. 

Reason #2: Promotes Lifelong Learning

Did you know that lifelong learning contributes to a sharper mind, better interpersonal skills, and more effective communication? 

Workers who participate in regular, long-term learning can become more effective workers for the reasons we listed above. It can be a challenge to incorporate regular learning, however, into employee work. Employees have demanding schedules, and making time to learn isn’t often at the top of their priority list. 

Offering employees online learning vs face-to-face learning allows them to:

  • Watch training videos on the go
  • Complete assessments and assignments on their own time
  • Consume microlearning 
  • Communicate with other employees through internal social network

That way, your employees can consume small doses of learning every day with ease. 

Reason #3: Highly Flexible

Eighty-five percent of employees want training that fits their schedules, and one of the biggest drawbacks of in-person training is that it is completely the opposite of flexible. Employees must attend a session at a specific time, in a specific place. That may mean they cannot be home in time to pick up their kids from school, complete a project under a certain deadline, or will have to travel to another secondary location without a car.

These are all pain points for employees who attend in-person training that can be alleviated simply by moving training online. 

Online training allows employees to log into training whenever it suits them, from wherever it suits them, giving them greater satisfaction

Reason #4: Reach Remote Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up the desire for employees to trade city life for one in rural areas. For various reasons, such as the cost of living, people who can work from home want to move and would if they knew WFH was going to be permanent. 

And considering 28% of people plan to move more than 4 hours away, and another 13% said they plan on being between two, and four hours away, they won't exactly be coming back to the office to attend an in-person training session.

Rather than spend money on expensive travel or time on multiple sessions, provide training online. This eliminates the expense and effort of physical training for a 100% remote team and ensures all members of the team are getting equal training, regardless of where they live.


Successful online learning

Online learning is a powerful tool for organizations today. It allows you to reach remote workers, reduce costs, increase productivity, and make training accessible to all.

Successful online learning is executed by choosing the right LMS primarily. And the number one LMS on the market is Tovuti. Tovuti has powerful capabilities to create, deliver, and moderate online training for your workforce. 

Find out more about the features built right into Tovuti by watching a demo

Tyson Chaplin

Tyson Chaplin earned his Master of Educational Technology degree from Boise State University in 2014. He also earned a graduate certificate in Technology Integration and holds teaching certificates in online teaching, special education, and history.

Tyson is an Idaho native who is passionate about technology and how it can help all people learn and better themselves. He has worked in both public and private sectors. Tyson enjoys cooking and traveling with his wife, Malia, and restores vintage video game systems in his free time.

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