Is Online Learning as Effective as Face to Face Learning?

Considering furthering your education but wondering is online learning as effective as face to face learning?

We get this question a lot and the truth is that online learning can be just as effective, if not more effective than the traditional face to face learning. However, just like anything, what works for one person may not work for the next. So when it comes to which is more effective, it really comes down to you and what you find works the best for you and your needs.

To help you decide, we are going to take a closer look at online learning and just how it can benefit you so you can decide if it’s the right move for you.


Is online learning as effective as face to face learning?

The online learning industry has grown substantially in recent years. With the ease at which you can study, e-learning has enabled many students who may have not been in the position to go to college to get a degree and further their education. Given its lower cost and ease at which it can be provided, it’s also more appealing to companies to use to help educate their staff and provide continuous learning and development throughout their careers. 

Furthermore learning online significantly reduces the cost for students and enables those who can not afford the high cost of traditional college-style education to get a degree. Since you can study online while still maintaining your job many people are using e-learning to advance their careers or even completely change career direction. 

Online learning reduces the time investment that is usually required when obtaining an education in the traditional way. There’s no commute, parking fees or waiting around for classes to begin. All this time instead can be put to better use. Like studying, working or taking care of your family. 

Online learning vs face to face learning

Having completed my degree in the traditional face-to-face college setting and then doing several online courses afterwards there were definitely some differences between the two. Which do I prefer? Well, I think it all comes down to what stage of life you are at and what you need at that particular time. 

The college life experience

College, for many, is a part life. Attending a physical university to further your education has many more benefits than simply just obtaining the qualification. College life helps so many students who have just finished school experience the real world, dip their toes into living on their own away from their parents for the first time. 

It teaches skills that are only obtained by living that typical student life. Learning how to fend for yourself, survive on a tight budget as well as make new friends and interact with a diverse range of personalities. 

There’s also the social aspect of college life. The final years in school can be though, there’s a lot of studying, exams and pressure about choosing what to do for the rest of your life. Many, but not all, students are just not ready to go straight into the working world so the college life can be a good stepping stone. 

Going out and having some fun with new people is part of the college experience. For many, like myself, it was just as important at the course itself. This is perhaps the one big difference between getting an online education and face-to-face learning. I found it way easier to make friends and real connections by attending college. 

While in college, you have plenty of time for making friends and socialising while waiting around for classes to begin. Whereas with the online courses you are on your own. While you can connect with other students in the group forums, it is more focused on the course itself and learning so you are not really getting to know the person and who they are. 

Online learning can be more focused

A well structured online course can be more focused on learning. Online education is set out in a way that it teaches you exactly what you need to know. The information is there in front of you and is more direct with fewer distractions from other students asking questions and talking. Once you sit down to study there are no other students chatting or distracting you. It’s just you and the information. Which means you can take in more information and learn faster than you would in a traditional education environment.

This can make learning and studying faster. Fewer distractions. It’s just you and the information. The content is there in front of you. There is no need to take notes as you would do in a typical face-to-face setting. You can stop, pause and go back on any of the material that you didn’t fully understand. You can go at your own pace. Come and go as you please. This is one of the major advantages of online learning.

Whereas, when I was in college I spent a lot of the time taking notes, and struggling to hear the professor or losing my trail of thought as another student asked a question or was chatting to their friends during class.

Online learning also tends to be more visually stimulating and quite interactive. The last course I did online had a mixture of reading, video classes, interactive quizzes, group forum and end of module course work. Since the quizzes came at the end of each section, which is more than in college, I found it easier to remember the information. I also found my understanding of the topics much better since I was doing a mix of watching the lectures, reading, taking the quizzes and then putting all this information into the bigger module exam. 

Classroom learning depends a lot on the lecturer

Classroom learning will, for a large part, depend on the learning style of the teacher. He or she will have their own way of teaching you the course material. This could be very different than how another course instructor chooses to teach it.

However, with online learning, there is a certain level of consistency in how the course material is delivered to you. While I loved my college experience, there was one subject in particular that I struggled with. While the lecturer himself was a really nice guy and super helpful, I really just didn’t take to his learning style. 

What this meant for me was that I had to spend a lot more time studying and learning this subject outside of college. Which of course ate into my study time and increased the pressure and anxiety as the exam approached. 

My main problem seemed to be around his lack of direction and little to no course notes. Just this massive book but no guidance on what was important to read and learn for the exam. Each class would just begin with him speaking about a certain topic and followed by a lot of questions that more often than not led off-topic and was not relevant. 

For me, this meant I spent a lot of time reading the book but not knowing what was important for each section. Was I reading stuff that I didn’t need to be? At the end of the day, time is valuable and I found this subject, because of his learning style, used an awful of my available study time as well as attending the class. 

Whereas, with online learning, everything that you need to know is provided. The material is giving to you in a consistent format, and sometimes in a variety of formats such a video of a lecture as well as course notes for you to read.  Because it’s well structured and focused on the right information, there’s very little opportunity to get sidetracked. 

Online can be more personalized

One of the main benefits of online learning is that the information and material can be more personalised to your needs. It’s formated and structured in a way that’s highly relevant to you and what’s expected of you at the end of the course.

You can access it when and where you need to which makes it quite feasible for many people who would struggle to find the time and money to physically attend face-to-face learning. You can access at any time that suits you. Whether this is before work in the morning, on your lunch break or after you’ve put the kids to bed. You decide when to learn rather than been told when to do so.

Environmental impact

While this is one that you may not think of, there’s also an environmental impact of physically attending classroom learning. The travelling to and from college every day takes its toll on the environment. All of which is avoiding by pursuing your education online. E-Learning courses consume an average of 90% less energy and produce 85% fewer CO2 emissions per student than conventional face-to-face courses


Following on from the last point, online learning reduces the cost of attending a face-to-face learning course. You eliminate the cost of travelling back and forth to college every day. There are no parking fees. You can eat for lunches at home rather than in the college canteen. 

Also, online education is cheaper to obtain than your typical college degrees. This makes them more feasible and appealing for people who cannot afford to leave their full-time jobs to get a degree. College and tuition fees can be quite substantial. Elearning has the power to eliminate or significantly reduce the cost of student loans. 

Employee learning and development

Many employees value a company where they can continually learn and develop their skills. As a result, online learning and education are widely used by companies to educate and upskill their staff.

Not only is it cheaper for companies to use e-learning to train their staff and provide them with further skills, but it also means that their employees can do this while working. There is no need for them to take time off to go back to college or attend the course a number of days a week. 

Research has shown that employees value a company that offers them the chance to further their education and progress their careers while still working. Between family life and working full-time, physically attending a face-to-face learning course has its obstacles. Many of which, prevent staff who want to further their education from pursuing it.

However, online education makes this achievable. So even if you choose to physically attend a college to further your education, you’re very likely at some stage in your life be faced with furthering your education online. 


Online courses vary in intensity. The amount of study and commitment required will depend on the course and modules you choose. This makes online education even more flexible. You can choose to break down your course into fewer modules per semester to suit your needs and work around your other commitments. 

Whereas, when physically attending a course, the workload and timetable are done for you. You have little to no say in it. So classes begin according to the timetable and you must be there or you’ll miss the lecture. It’s a huge commitment that is difficult and demanding when you have kids and a career to attend to as well. 

Not to mention all the added time that is required of actually driving or travelling to and from college. In addition to the periods where you may have to wait around for classes to begin. E-learning requires 40-60% less employee time than the same material on a typical college setting.

Face-to-face learning can be more structured

While learning online has some major advantages, face-to-face learning does teach you discipline and structure. Because you are told when to show up for your classes it takes the pressure off you to create a timetable for yourself. You’ll also be given an outline of what’s expected of you, course work that needs to be done and a course leader there to keep you on track and motivated. 

Frequency of assessments

I know we don’t like assessments but they actually help us learn and lead to better retention rates. Online courses are great for providing a larger number of assessments throughout the course. Whereas, this is difficult to do with traditional face-to-face learning and therefore leads to less frequent exams and assessments throughout the course.