Differences Between Online and Classroom Teaching

Teachers who wish to offer online learning may opt to undergo training specific to the distance education environment. They need to learn how to apply technological skills while also facilitating interaction with their classes.

Experienced teachers who are considering expanding their careers into online teaching can learn about the differences between classroom and online teaching through educational programs.

Online Teaching vs. Classroom Teaching

There are several key differences between teaching online and classroom-based courses, including the following:

Curriculum Preparation

Teachers posting content online often have to supply a complete syllabus at the start of the course. This is especially true when students can control their own schedule and work at their own pace. Online teachers must often have all class material prepared and ready for students before the course ever begins. This stands in contrast to traditional classroom courses, where teachers may have the option of writing the course curriculum as the semester progresses, drawing on the textbook and class progress to draw the class to a closing point and modifying the work as necessary to fit the circumstances.

Grading and Assignment Completion

Some online classes require students to turn in their assignments periodically throughout the semester, just as traditional classes do. Others have more flexible assignment dates, in which case teachers must often be prepared to grade a great deal of material all at once at the end of a semester. Teachers can also utilize a software interface that allows them to assign answers as they create the problems and thereby orchestrate self-grading automated tests.

Teacher Availability

Unlike classroom teachers, online teachers may not be required to be in class at any particular time, but they must make themselves available to student questions on a consistent basis throughout each day to ensure that students have a consistent resource for learning. This interaction may occur via e-mail, instant messenger or some other asynchronous form of communication.

Facilitating Class Discussions

In a classroom environment, teachers may dedicate class time to seminar-style discussions of course topics. In online courses, teachers may require students to share their views on forums and message boards. They may spark discussions by asking open-ended questions about course material. From there, teachers need to monitor student interactions in order to ensure that students are participating in the class and understand the material that is being presented.

It is important to note that some online teachers also use online web meetings to facilitate real-time class discussions. This forum may also be used for virtual student presentations. Both teachers and their students need web cameras and microphones or headsets for such events.

Learning Outcomes

Instructors who conduct classes online have to be more aware of certain teaching techniques and learning outcomes. For example, online teaching classes available through public high school systems as well as postsecondary institutions emphasize the need to facilitate student communication. Because learners aren't communicating in a classroom setting, they need to be able to conduct ongoing dialogue with peers and professors. Teachers may wish to assign group projects or set participation quotas to provide distance-education students with the same sense of community and learning support that classroom-based students experience.

Training Options in Online Teaching

Educators who are interested in receiving formal training in distance education technology and teaching methods can find options at several universities or colleges -- many of which are offered online. These programs are usually designed for experienced academic instructors or corporate managers and trainers who utilize distance learning methods. Schools most commonly offer programs that lead to graduates earning a certificate or master's degree in one of the following fields:

  • Distance education technology
  • E-learning instructional design
  • Distance education teaching

There are several ways that teaching an online class differs from teaching a classroom-based course. Aspiring online teachers can learn about them by completing a training program.


What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?