Online teaching vs the classroom: The pros and cons

Online teaching vs the classroom: The pros and cons

Four years on from the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools worldwide continue to transform the way teaching and learning is delivered both in and outside of their classrooms.

Indeed, the shift to remote learning following the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 provided some crucial lessons for educators, leaders, students, parents, and policymakers – namely, what works and what doesn’t when it comes to online learning.

Ronan Kearney is one educator who observed a marked shift in student engagement and performance while transitioning between online and face-to-face teaching.

With a career spanning from the UK to international assignments and a variety of leadership roles including Deputy Principal, Head of Biology and Psychology, and Curriculum Manager, Kearney has also had the opportunity to see this dynamic play out across multiple school systems.

Today, Kearney is the Deputy Principal at Crimson Global Academy, a global online school in Australia that “empowers students with the learning flexibility to re-imagine their academic potential.”

He says online learning has unlocked individual learning paths, allowing students to interact in diverse ways—whether through chat functions, direct communication, or improving through the real-time feedback on assignments they receive.

“This adaptability has been particularly beneficial for students who thrive in less traditional learning environments and want to accelerate their learning,” Kearney told The Educator. “Online learning also better supports students with special educational needs.”

Kearney said the flexibility of online schedules enables students to pursue passions outside the academic curriculum, broadening their intellectual and extracurricular pursuits.

“We have seen students previously underperforming in face-to-face settings show remarkable improvement online, highlighting the potential of digital education to cater to a wider range of learners and needs,” he said.

“This transformation underscores the importance of embracing technology in education, not just as a tool for dissemination, but as a means to foster a more personalised and engaging learning experience.”

The pros and cons

Kearney said the transition to online teaching presents unique challenges, not least of which is adapting traditional classroom workflows to digital platforms.

“The pace of online lessons tends to be quicker, demanding a reevaluation of lesson timing and content delivery,” he said.

“For teachers navigating this new terrain, it's crucial to approach the online environment with openness to experimentation and adaptation. Exploring new pedagogical methods and technological tools can enrich the learning experience significantly.”

However, Kearney notes the potential for isolation is a notable pitfall.

“Engagement with peers and participation in professional development are essential to combat this,” he said.

“Encouraging a school culture that facilitates staff collaboration and observation online can replicate the collegial support found in physical settings.”

Kearney said teachers are urged to leverage digital professional development spaces as well as regular group meetings to share insights and strategies.

“Embracing this collaborative spirit not only enhances teaching practices but also enriches the online educational environment for both teachers and students.”