Module 1: Online vs. Face-to-Face Instruction

Upon completion of this module, participants will be able to:
1. Compare and contrast the advantages of online versus face-to-face instruction.
2. Evaluate their preparedness for teaching in an online environment.

Many educators approach teaching in an online environment with a mixture of skepticism and excitement. To some, the perceived complexity of tasks associated with developing and delivering an online course seem too time consuming and/or technically challenging to want to tackle. However, many experienced online instructors are quick to remind their colleagues new to online teaching that discipline content and pedagogy still take center stage in an online course. Essentially, you are teaching the same course online as you do face-to-face, but the teaching techniques and media modes you employ are different.

In this section, we’ll take a look at both sides of the argument for and against online learning, we’ll look at some of the major differences between online and face-to-face courses, and look at qualities of a good online course. At frequent points throughout the module, you’ll be directed to an external Internet link for examination of a specific topic or viewpoint. A separate browser window will open so you may explore the suggested resource and then return to the module content when you close the browser window.

Let’s begin with a review of the Strengths and Weaknesses of Online Learning, as documented by the Illinois Online Learning Network. This web resource presents a balanced view of online course characteristics so take time to read both the “strengths” and “weaknesses” lists.

Key Differences Between Online and Face-to-Face Teaching takes a practical look at the two different learning environments and the advantages and problems inherent in each. This is a great overview from the North Carolina Community College System’s Principles and Techniques of Online Instruction that points out important issues to consider. (You’ll view the document using Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Reader, you can download it for free at

The teaching techniques and tools available to you for delivery of an online course are somewhat different than those you use in a face-to-face course. Review the American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s Asynchronous Learning Pedagogy and Methods table for a comparison of teaching techniques used in a live classroom and those used in an online course:

Is Online Teaching for Me? If this is a question you’ve asked yourself, try the self-evaluation quiz from UCLA Extension’s Online Learning network. It allows you to evaluate your computer skills, experience with online learning environments, attitudes toward online teaching, teaching styles and habits, and available time, to determine if teaching online is right for you. Spend a few minutes taking the quiz.

Let’s further explore the differences between online and face-to-face instruction in the Readings section of Module 1.