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Online vs In Person Learning

14/11/2022 / Online Tutoring

Since the earliest civilisations, education systems have been based on the simple model of teacher and pupil. The term ‘educate’ comes from Latin, meaning to lead out or to bring up. Novices learn from experts in many different ways, but a structured education needs a formalised relationship. The subjects being taught change over time, and the curriculum of a thousand years ago would look very strange to contemporary eyes, although the principle is the same.

Within this article, we review how education has evolved, especially as a result of the Covid pandemic.

What does this article cover:

What Are Online and Offline Learning and What Are the Differences?

Now that the internet has transformed most aspects of our lives, it’s hardly surprising that technology has triggered a new phase in the evolution of education. Methods of teaching have also evolved. For example, the Victorian classroom was very different from today’s schools’ more casual, collaborative environment. The growth of online learning, particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic, has been rapid. As a means of accessing private tuition, it has been with us for several years, but in the post-pandemic world, it has become an integral part of the teaching system.

Offline learning simply refers to a conventional classroom, tutorial and lecture theatre teaching. It takes place face to face, either in an educational institution or if it’s one-to-one tuition, then it can be conducted in the student’s home, at the tutor’s premises or anywhere convenient for both parties. Online learning is virtual and remote. Some tutors will host several students in one class, while others will concentrate on individuals, one at a time.

Apart from the physical difference between the two methods, there are other ways in which they differ. One of these is the greater scheduling flexibility of online teaching. It can be arranged anywhere and at any time since there’s no need to conform to a specific timetable. Furthermore, because online learning is based upon technology, it simplifies the display and sharing of materials.

We all know what conventional face-to-face teaching involves. For it to be effective, it needs a very good teacher and receptive students. Online learning requires the same essential components, but there are several advantages unique to the virtual experience. We should also acknowledge its limitations. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of online learning.


  • Accessibility: Accessibility is one of the most obvious benefits. It’s ideal for people who, for whatever reason, can’t get to physical classes or want to augment their schooling around other commitments. This is true of school-age and adult education. A screen, speaker and keyboard sweep away many practical barriers to learning. It means wider access for a broader demographic, which is an unalloyed good.
  • Personalisation: >One of the reasons why students turn to online tuition is that they find the pace or structure of the classroom experience unsuitable for the way they want to study and learn. Online classes allow enormous freedom both in their scheduling and in the speed at which a topic is covered. In a traditional environment, it’s too easy to fall behind, so when the teacher moves on to a new topic, a pupil may not have reached a secure understanding of the previous one. With an online tutor, it’s much easier to go at an appropriate speed, so the pupil gains a full understanding.
  • Cost: State school education is free at the point of delivery, although we all pay for it through our taxes. Private school education can be phenomenally expensive, and although private schools have substantially greater resources and smaller class sizes, there is no guarantee that the learning experience will lead to significantly better outcomes. Private tuition fills a gap. It’s true that it comes at a price, but the online option is considerably more affordable than one-to-one in-person private lessons. If a student is struggling to keep up or has had to be absent from school for health or personal reasons, few institutions will have the capacity to help them make up the difference. Online tuition is the perfect low-cost solution, yielding results far in excess of the modest investment required.


Online learning has a few limitations, but the right tutor can overcome these. Some teachers may lack the creativity to make every session feel fresh and consistent engagement can be hard to achieve. Certain subjects, can be challenging to teach online, however, a good teacher finds imaginative ways not only to replicate the benefits of classroom interaction but also to hold the attention and interest of students.

Which is More Effective, Online Learning or Face-to-Face Learning?

In a sense, this may not be the best way to phrase the question. For the vast majority of students who use online tutors, it complements the classroom experience, reinforcing or enhancing their ability to get to grips with topics and develop a secure understanding. In terms of effectiveness, there’s little doubt that having a tutor who dedicates their time to one student speeds up the process. In many cases, the extra sessions provide a better grounding, and students often become so accustomed to this kind of personalised teaching that they are very happy for it to continue.

Now that we have an entire generation of school children who have grown up in the digital age, online learning is a natural part of their behaviour and communication patterns. For them, it is a comfortable, familiar environment in which they thrive. It’s unlikely that face-to-face learning will disappear in the foreseeable future, but even traditional institutions are adapting to new technology. There is increasingly extensive use of virtual and augmented reality, together with the more straightforward solutions of digitally distributing materials, setting and receiving homework and conducting mock exams. The distinctions are becoming blurred. Face-to-face learning facilitates collaboration, but the direction of travel is moving increasingly online.

Why is Online Learning Better?

Traditional education has been undergoing significant changes in recent years. The classroom retains a valuable place in every child’s education, but while dominant, it no longer holds the central position it occupied ten years ago. The Covid-19 pandemic forced schools online before many of them were ready, but they quickly adapted out of necessity, and now the genie stubbornly refuses to climb back into the bottle.

Research from the US tells us that in higher education, 30% of students take at least one online course. In the UK too, distance learning – known as correspondence courses in the pre-digital age – is also growing in popularity. Rather than replacing in-person learning, it represents an expansion, opening up new possibilities and alternatives. The school system has been slower to respond to change, but it’s only a matter of time before we will realise that the educational environment has transformed itself around us.

Online learning, at the various Key Stage levels just as much as in higher education, has the immense advantages of flexibility, accessibility, customisation and the availability of a much wider selection of topics and materials. At its core, the relationship between student and teacher remains essential, but when it manifests in the online world, it can be even more rewarding than in the old face-to-face model.

How do Students Feel About Online Tutoring?

Just as online banking was once viewed as a curious novelty before it became the norm, online tutoring now enjoys the imprimatur of the state. In the UK, the government’s National Tutoring Programme (NTP) initiative exists to provide funding to primary and secondary schools, which they have the discretion to spend on targeted academic support, delivered by experienced externally sourced tutors. On 31st March 2022, the Department for Education simplified the scheme to increase the freedom of schools to spend the money where they identify the greatest need. This has fanned the flames of debate about the role of personal tuition services and encouraged widespread acceptance of this once relatively exclusive resource.

From a recent comprehensive survey, we learned that online tutoring is regarded favourably by a significant majority of teachers, tutors, parents and students. Nearly 75% of parents and teachers felt positive about its benefits, while 84% of pupils themselves gave it their strong endorsement, saying they found it to be at least as effective as – and often more beneficial than – in-person tutoring. All groups agreed that the three main benefits were flexibility in scheduling, the ability to search recordings of lessons and the more focused yet relaxed atmosphere it engenders.

As for the future, 95% of parents expect that some or all of their children’s learning will be conducted online, while 98% of students say the same. Comparisons with pre-pandemic attitudes show a marked change of opinion. In 2019 online tutoring was an outlier in the education system, but since then, it has planted its flag firmly in the mainstream.

Online tutoring today goes far beyond the video-conferencing model of its early days. Students now benefit from the use of resources, including interactive whiteboards and artificial intelligence, which can transform tutors’ words into transcripts that are ideal for revision and remove the uncertainty of traditional note-taking. We are witnessing a sea change in the thinking of students, parents and teachers, which is developing an acceptance of and alignment with the innovations of technology.

From the earliest known schools in Egypt 4,000 years ago to today’s hybrid mix of classroom and online, education is a journey with no definitive end. The next chapter in its history is digital.


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