Online versus face-to-face learning: which one suits you?

Choosing the right learning online or face-to-face

As hybrid and remote working emerges as a ‘new normal’, we have more options than ever to customise how we learn. Online and in-person learning offer different benefits, features, and drawbacks. 

In this guide, we’ll explore the differences so you can decide whether online or face-to-face learning better suits your needs, preferences, and lifestyle. 

The benefits of studying online

There are many benefits to studying online, chiefly flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and personalisation, although there are many others. This mode of learning will particularly suit those working full-time, who live remotely, or who have busy schedules. It’s also ideal for career changers and people with learning difficulties or disabilities. 


Online learning’s primary benefit is its high level of flexibility. Learning online eliminates geographical barriers, which is particularly helpful for those who live in rural areas, rely on public transport, or have commitments that make commuting difficult. It also allows you to study from the comfort of your own home, a cafe, or the sidelines of your kid’s basketball practice. 

Additionally, many online RTOs (registered training organisations) offer self-paced learning which allows you to study any time from anywhere with an internet connection. This can make a massive difference in your ability to fit study into your life as you can study in the evenings, on the weekends, on your lunch break, or any other time that suits you! It also allows you to study more intensively to complete your qualification quicker or to take longer if you have less time to dedicate to your studies.


Online learning typically costs less than traditional on-campus learning due to the reduced running costs. It also saves you all the peripheral costs of face-to-face studying like commuting, textbooks, parking, and lunches or coffee from campus. 

It’s also easier to work while studying online, which means you can retain your full-time or part-time work and study around your work rather than cramming work hours around your study.


If you’re looking for increased personalisation or customisability, online learning may be better positioned to support your needs. For example, at the College for Adult Learning, we offer learning coach calls with an industry expert who can walk you through unit content, assessment requirements, and answer any questions you may have. We also have customisable study planners, live chats, and other support options. 

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Potential drawbacks of studying online

The flipside to the enormous benefits of self-paced learning is that it requires you to ‘self-start’ more so than face-to-face learning. If you struggle with self-discipline or motivation and wish to study online, it’s a good idea to equip yourself with tools to help you succeed. For example, some students find it helpful to pre-book fortnightly coaching calls to keep them on track and motivate them to complete coursework. Others find a ‘study buddy’ who can keep them accountable and foster feelings of connection. 

Additionally, if you prefer a high level of in-person interactions, you may find online studying more isolating. While you can access discussion boards and group coaching sessions through online study, face-to-face learning certainly offers more opportunities to build relationships with instructors and fellow students. 

Online learning of course also requires basic computer skills and reliable internet access, which may be intimidating if you’re tech-shy. That being said, face-to-face learning also increasingly requires technology competency, which means this isn’t a barrier to entry as much as it may have been in the past.

The benefits of face-to-face learning

Face-to-face learning also has its perks and many people thrive on the social and in-person element of this mode of learning. Learning on campus particularly suits extroverted learners and people who have the time to devote and immerse themselves in full-time study.

Direct interaction and real-time feedback

If you’re a people person, you may find that face-to-face learning suits you better. It’s true that being in the same room as other learners where conversation flows and ideas are workshopped can be more engaging than learning from a screen. However, with the joys of technology – virtual classrooms, coaching calls, and discussion groups can mimic this interpersonal communication.

This face-to-face learning also gives you the capacity to clarify information at any moment. If you’re unsure about something your lecturer just said, you can quickly raise your hand and ask a question. While online learning offers features like live chat and support emails, the speed of response isn’t the same as that of face-to-face learning.

Extra-curricular and social benefits

Studying on campus can help you engage socially with your peers and build relationships. You can also join clubs, campus events, and engage in volunteer work. Campuses also typically feature facilities you can take advantage of like libraries, study spaces, career services, student counselling, and cafes. 

The increased social element of face-to-face learning means that if you find it hard to interact with people outside your bubble, being on campus helps force you outside your comfort zone. It also can act as a kind of immersion to intensify your focus on studying.

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Potential drawbacks of studying face-to-face

Studying face-to-face undeniably offers more opportunities for interpersonal interaction and campus benefits. However, these same benefits come with constraints. Other students can help or hinder your ability to focus depending on personalities, learning needs, and disruptive behaviour. Similarly, the amazing campus facilities have a literal cost that translates to more money spent on your studies than you’d pay for studying online. 

Your flexibility is also impacted as your education provider will set your study days and times and it’s your responsibility to arrange your other commitments around those times, commute to campus, and arrive on time.

Which learning format will work best for me?

In the end, whether you choose online or face-to-face learning will come down to your circumstances. If it’s important you continue working full-time while you study, online learning is the obvious choice. If you’re a parent, the flexibility of online learning may trump face-to-face learning from a practical standpoint. Whereas if you find yourself in a position with more time and fewer commitments, you can make your choice based on your preferences and learning style.

Another thing that becomes clear through this analysis is that the gap between online and face-to-face learning is closing. Studying on-campus will require you to flex more technical skills and online learning will feature personal interaction that wasn’t possible a decade ago.

At the end of the day, the best learning style is the one you feel most confident will help you achieve your best result.

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