The Differences Between Teaching Online and Teaching Face-to-Face

There are a few differences between the typical face-to-face classroom and an online course. Some of these differences are more obvious than others. The course schedule is the most obvious difference. The typical face-to-face course is synchronous; both teacher and learner must be present at the same time and in the same place (or at least the same Zoom session). One of the reasons online courses have grown in popularity is that these courses are asynchronous. Students can enroll in a course without committing to a specific time of day each week leaving them free to complete coursework on a schedule that works for them.  The synchronous/asynchronous dichotomy is a useful way to think about many of the other differences, and these are explained in the table below:

When teaching a F2F course I…

In an online course I…

Get non-verbal feedback from students during the class. I am usually able to see when students are confused or lost.  

Need to write clear and detailed instructions and encourage the students to ask questions when they are uncertain about course material or about what they are supposed to accomplish.

Can see who is taking the exams so I know that they aren’t cheating.

Should utilize a variety of assignments to assess student understanding, including written assignments, discussions, essays, and projects. If I need to give an exam, I do have options for minimizing the threat of academic dishonesty if I need them.

Have been teaching this course so long that I don’t have to really plan anything out. I just check where I left off during the last class period and move on.

Need to have all instruction and activities planned and available to the students in advance. Updating it or making it up as I go will create confusion for students and headaches for me.

Have office hours where I wait in my office for students to come talk to me about the course.

Can still have office hours, but I hold them online so that students who have questions can “come talk to me” in Zoom or Collaborate or other communication tool.

Get to know students well by interacting with them in class.

Get to know my students very well because we use a lot of written communication and they share details with me that they would probably never bring up in class.


Obviously, this list is not exhaustive, but it covers the basic differences between face-to-face and online courses.


Module 02

Related Information


Comparing Face-to-Face and Online Teaching

This video from the Online Learning Consortium explains the key differences between the two.

video length 1:51

Video - Comparing Face to Face and Online Teaching

Synchronous & Asynchronous Learning in an Online Course

For a deeper dive into the differences between synchronous and asynchronous learning, check out this video from UMass Boston.

video length 6:43

Video - Synchronous & Asynchronous Learning in an Online Course

LinkedIn Learning Course

For more information, you can take an online course about teaching online through the University of Arkansas access to Linked In Learning provided to all faculty, staff, and students: