Breaking it down: In-person vs. online course delivery [infographic]


“More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given.”

Bertrand Russell (2014). “On Education,” p. 181, Routledge

Many of the similarities and differences between in-person and online course delivery are obvious. For example, location, the ways faculty and students interact, teaching strategy and approach, or how students manage their time and workload. But to say one is better or worse than the other is an ongoing debate with a plethora of research, papers, and published works supporting one position over another.

The purpose of this post is not to debate which method is superior for teaching, learning, or retention of content. With #StayHomeStayHealthy mandates, I am focused on what we are dealing with today and helping faculty and students navigate the reality that all of their Washington State University courses for spring and summer 2020 will be delivered online – regardless of the original intent.

I created an infographic that illustrates a comparison between in-person and online course delivery:

infographic - in person vs online course delivery

In my process of creating this post, I reviewed several recent articles about the pros and cons of distance delivery, myths about online education, the makeup of a successful online student, and the benefits and drawbacks of both. There are a lot of published articles on these topics. Thematically, they all pretty much say the same thing. Here are five highlights on the pros and cons of distance learning pulled from multiple sources:


  1. Flexible learning and study option
  2. Students can (technically) learn from anywhere as long as they have a computer (or tablet) and WiFi access, headset and maybe webcam as a bonus
  3. Even with deadlines and course schedule parameters, students have more control over pacing and ability to re-review content they didn’t grasp at a first pass
  4. If students embrace their “online community” within each course, they may find they have more meaningful engagement and make stronger connection with peers through discussion forums and peer review of work
  5. Taking classes online is a terrific option for place-bound students who do not have geographic access to college campuses or work/family schedules that allow them to be physically present in a classroom setting


  1. Requires commitment, diligence, tenacity, and self-discipline
  2. Students must be mindful about finding study spaces conducive to learning (quiet, reliable Internet access, good ergonomic setup)
  3. Pace is a blessing and a curse for those who struggle with self-discipline, staying organized, meeting deadlines, or grasping concepts without live, interactive discussion
  4. Students may feel disconnected, lonely, lost, and isolated from peers and instructors if there is not a strong mechanism for them to connect in relative real-time within and outside the course space
  5. Students who are highly social and fed by the energy of others may struggle with the disconnected and independent structure of the online course environment

Now that you are settling into your now-online classes, you may want to spend some time exploring ways you can refine a sustainable routine, improve self-discipline, elevate your content, or better engage with students.

Here are some helpful tools from @WSUGlobal and @AOILearning you can check out:


This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

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