Currently when a lot of traditionally taught courses are converted to online and remote education - what does science say about the effectiveness of that compared to the traditional classroom situation?

I am taking a language course and just had my first online (MS Teams) session and thought it was horrible (much more distractions sitting at home, no live interaction with the person next to me and so on).

I assume there has been a lot of research on this subject made before (and that even more will be done after corona) and am looking for "rule of thumb"-answers, just to get an idea in which direction the results are pointing

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    I would specify clearly that these rule-of-thumb answers should still be science-based, otherwise the answers will be full of unsourced personal takes. Mar 31, 2020 at 9:23
  • Yes, of course. I just meant that the effectiveness might vary a lot between subjects, context, type of course and so on. As an example of a rule of thumb answer I am looing for, organic farming requires approximately 100 % more area for the same yield but certain crops only need 20 % more are while others need 300 %. 100 % is a good rule of thumb if you look at the average persons consumption of vegetables and fruits.
    – d-b
    Mar 31, 2020 at 9:46
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    Yes, there are many published works assessing the effectiveness of e-Learning. My personal opinion is that physical attendance is always the best and e-Learning didn't come to existence in order to replace traditional learning but to be an alternative solution when traditional learning cannot (or difficult to) be reached.
    – Yacine
    Mar 31, 2020 at 9:48
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    From what I've read, it's the consensus that high-quality online teaching is possible, if rethought and redesigned from the ground up. The existing research will presumably discuss that. The current situation -- where in-person courses have been hastily converted into online courses, by faculty members with little background or interest in online teaching, and who in many cases are coping with adverse circumstances -- is unprecedented, and I think it's inevitable that in many cases it will go poorly.
    – academic
    Mar 31, 2020 at 10:28
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    Have you tried a basic search of the literature? e.g. scholar.google.com/… Mar 31, 2020 at 16:10

3 Answers 3


I don't believe there is much research done on this, though some research definitely has "concluded" that the MOOCs courses were unsuccessful.

My own take on the matter is this, and it is backed by some personal experience and student feedback:

  • When done with sufficient care, online learning is way more effective, pedagogically, than traditional lecture-centered face-to-face learning. Students can go back and forth in their own preferred pace to understand thoroughly what the lecturer says.

  • It is a fact that many (20%?) students (and people) simply cannot grasp notions and arguments from live lectures. While they can grasp it if they have control over the speed and can freeze the lecture.

  • Online lectures tend to be better structured, because the focus is on mere educational communication, and so teachers must work harder on the content, and cannot rely on spontaneous interaction with students.

  • Interaction with students is in fact better many times: you have a chat, and students can ask questions in a clear way, and not live in front of the whole cohort. This gives many students much better interaction with the lecturer.

The only BIG disadvantage of online lectures I see, is not the lectures themselves, pedagogically, but the psychology of sitting at home isolated from spontaneous interaction with peers and staff. This psychosocial deficiency detracts severely from the teaching experience, and students motivation and hence students engagement, and is probably the reason why online learning only programs are not sufficient and cannot replace entirely face-to-face teaching.


It seems that the consensus over the last two years is that online teaching is inferior to face to face, for many students. But the change has changed the balance a bit between different groups of students. For me, the change would have been highly negative (were I still a student) as I like to ask a lot of questions. That is harder to do remotely. But some students would rather study on their own and the provided materials are adequate for their need.

Some things are clearly harder. Exam proctoring, for example, has become difficult to impossible. Changing the nature of student evaluation is probably necessary, but the time frame has been too short for that to be developed and tested.

Giving individual feedback to students has become harder also. I used to be able to write short notes on student's paper assignments. But exchanging paper has become difficult to impossible and electronic equivalents are, at best, awkward.

But the biggest factor is probably that it is new for everyone. It isn't that we have two highly developed "modes" of course delivery that everyone understands so that we just flip a switch to go from one to the other. Everyone is struggling, instructors included.

But, we are unlikely to go back to the original system as economic factors start to intrude. If it is cheaper to deliver online, since a lot of the cost gets pushed to students, then those responsible for institutional costs will start to find that advantageous.

At the moment (early 2022) we are still struggling. A number of news stories recently suggest that students are unhappy, both with online teaching and with being forced to meet in person in uncertain times.

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    I like to ask a lot of questions. That is harder to do remotely: Actually, in my experience in the last two pandemic years, students tend to ask more questions remotely rather than less, because the chat lowers the psychological barrier. Giving individual feedback to students has become harder also: Not really. You don't exchange papers, you exchange PDFs, which can be easily annotated with a tablet and a PDF editor. I'll in fact continue to use this method also this year as soon as I'll restart classes in person. Other things, yes, are difficult (e.g. experimental labs). Jan 21, 2022 at 19:33

Pass rates for MOOCs (high enrollment online courses) are usually less than 10%. This was well known before the pandemic. The best MOOCs have lower pass rates than mediocre in-person classes.

Online courses have objectively inferior effectiveness. There is no reason to think that cannot be changed.


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