Online learning vs face to face: 7 ways to improve the experience

Online learning vs face to face learning: When converting a course to an online version students often end up with a watered down learning experience. In this discussion paper we compare the features of online learning vs face to face learning. We ask where features go missing. Finally, we examine how online learning can match or enhance the face to face experience.    (More about how we convert here…)

Online learning vs face to face: Is it necessary to sacrifice the benefits in order to go online?

In traditional,  face-to-face learning, students and their lecturers meet at the same time and at the same place. In this environment it is easy to coordinate group activities and to share documents and other information. Consequently, the face to face interaction facilitates learning. However, when putting courses online, developers forget about the experience and focus purely on the content. Therefore, one learning experience ends up better than the other. Ultimately, proper course conversions should put an end to the pros and cons debate. Why is this so?

Online learning vs face to face: Content rich, experience poor

Answer these questions from your experience: Firstly, “Who ends up with the course conversion responsibility?” (i.e. Is it an education professional, computer geek, admin person, etc.?) Secondly, “What they are asked to convert?” (i.e. Is it the content or the learning process?)

90% of the experience is lost just by ignoring those two questions. They are terrible, yet obvious oversights. 

How does the rich experience fall through the cracks?

Typically a person receives the study material and  puts it online.  However, this person normally has little insight into the interactive experience. The end result is a course with mostly text and image content, with little interaction. Students merely read and click next. In short, the course resembles a text book in computer screen.

Interaction is essential for engaging students. However, there is interaction for the sake of interaction, and then there’s interaction that serves a learning objective. Very often, the purposeful interactions of face-to-face learning are substituted with gimmicky interaction online. 

Very often a course conversion omits the process of facilitating learning, and even distracts students. Consequently online courses offer of a lot of theory, but they provide dismal learning experiences.

Online learning vs face to face learning: How to make it better

Is it possible to achieve the face to face benefits through an online learning platform. There are many platforms with similar functions, but Moodle and it’s tools will serve as the example. We are able to compare how some of  Moodle’s built in functions match or enhance the benefits that students derive from face-to-face learning.

In the comparison, you might observe that learning tools do not replace the lecturer’s work (we elabourate on that here).  Lets look at the comparison of techniques used in face-to-face and online learning.

Online learning vs face to face – tools that enhance learning

Face-to-face aspectsHow to match & enhance with online education

Group assignments / group work

By using collaborative tools such as the Wiki, forums, group assignments, students are compelled to interact online.

Share handouts with students

Upload handouts and case studies. Students receive notification and access it when they are ready. As a result, you will reduce printing and paper costs.

Student interaction

Use the interaction tools. Put students in groups. Allow peer marking of work. Set up polls and surveys (but ask meaningful questions). Message the students.

Co-ordinate dates and activities

Use the calendars. Set due dates on activities. Log in and view student progress.

Identify students that are not on track.

Log in and view results for micro/formative assessment. View student progress and dedication time. Receive updates on student activity within the course. Identify and message students at risk.

Break-away discussions

Use forums to hold conversations online. When a student writes a response, it is often a more thoughtful, productive response than one spontaneously blurted in a group discussion.

The lecturer will be able to observe, moderate and even participate therein.  One option would be to grade students for their contributions. Free-riders/loafers would immediately be conspicuous in their online silence.

Explain that again…

Face-to-face classes are normally time constrained. Intuitively, going back on the timetable seems counter-productive.

Furthermore, if a student misses something the lecturer said, who would know about itNormally, nobody says anything, and the lecture proceeds. After all, it’s frowned upon to interrupt. Rather, the student sits there silently hoping to catch up later.  

Going online, one may record good explanations and upload them.  In this way, all students will be able to revise, pause, forward and rewind, speed up / slow down as they like.

Lecturers should log in and see who watched their videos or not.

Interactive video takes it a step further. At key points, the video only advances if the student understands the information.

Everybody in the education businesses should keep these aspects in mind when putting courses on their own learning platform.

If you are looking for a distinction between online learning vs face to face, as constructs, here is a link.

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