Online teaching vs. face-to-face teaching – What are the differences?

What is the difference between face-to-face teaching and online teaching? While in theory, the core function is the same, you would be surprised to learn that teaching virtually and in the classroom are remarkably different, presenting their own unique challenges for both tutors and students. 

I learnt this after speaking with a teacher who had to teach her students online during the recent lockdown. She told me a curious tale about the recent performance of her students. 

As they shifted to an online medium, she noticed that some of her more quiet students became more opinionated and active in LMS forums. While students who rarely contributed to group assignments were actively driving the conversation. 

She was pleased with this outcome, though a little surprised.

The teacher confessed that she had a hard time adjusting to the different needs of the medium. “I assumed that I could just pick up where I left off from the classroom,” she told me. “But I quickly learnt that teaching really well online is quite different from our usual classes.” 

Of course, the teacher in question adapted to using an LMS and was able to conduct her classes from the safety of her home. She told me that she intends to continue teaching online until lockdowns have lifted completely. The teacher’s experience reflects the difference between online teaching and face-to-face teaching. 

While the jump is not massive, it can definitely take the uninitiated by surprise. If you are prepared, you can plan out your lessons better, and make a smoother transition to the online medium. Let’s take a look at some of the differences in online teaching and face-to-face teaching.

Teaching on two different mediums

Lack of feedback

One significant difference between online teaching and teaching in a face-to-face environment is the difference in feedback. In a conventional classroom, tutors have plenty of feedback to know how well students are taking to their lessons. Be it the look on their face or the overall vibe of the classroom, tutors have several options to gauge the response to their teaching style and adapt accordingly. 

However, this feedback is not readily available in a virtual classroom. With students miles apart, you are not going to get the same feedback, as you would in a normal classroom. While features like communicating via forums or Zoom chat help, you are still not getting the same feedback as before. Instead, there are different analytics tools to measure performance and progress when teaching online. Tutors will have to adapt quickly to different methods to get meaningful feedback.

The use of back channels

While in the past, the use of backchannels would not have been acceptable in class, a virtual classroom can benefit tremendously from one. For those of you who don’t know, backchannels mean maintaining an online conversation in real-time as the primary group activity is taking place. 

A great example of backchanneling would be live-tweeting about a conference as it is happening. Backchanneling can be a useful educational tool in a virtual classroom, something which was not possible in a more conventional one. For example, while students are watching an educational video, they can discuss it on the LMS forums. Backchanneling can be a great educational tool if used properly.

Classroom management

One of the biggest differences between teaching online and a physical classroom is classroom management. Managing a class is a huge part of a teacher’s work – they have to break up students into different groups for team activities and arrange the space in a way that makes activities go smoothly. 

Meanwhile, classroom management in online education takes on a different meaning. 

Due to the virtual nature of the classroom, classroom management is less about managing physical space and more about getting students to stay engaged and focused when studying from home. For example, instead of dividing students into different groups, tutors should manage the entire group during class. Instead of standing back, observing students and providing feedback when needed, tutors can use a variety of analytics and KPI tools to guide learning. 

Successfully managing classes in online learning is a shift in mentality that tutors need to adjust to quickly.

Adapting to the different mediums of teaching online

While it is possible to successfully adapt to the differences between face-to-face teaching and online teaching, the key is to make sure that the LMS system has the right tools to support your role as a teacher when teaching online to facilitate your transition from physical to virtual.



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