From Face-to-Face to Online: The Spectrum of Learning Environments

I’ve recently engaged myself in an initiative to understand, learn and share the benefits of blended learning. This post is my reflection on the different modalities or environments of learning. I’ve created an inforgraphic to visually express what I’ve learned.

There are many types of learning environments depending on interaction (face-to-face or online).

Initially, learning environments are purely physical or in-contact (traditional). Traditional learning involves 100% delivery of content via face-to-face interaction (e.g. lectures, laboratory works, workshops etc.). Most of us, adults of 2010s, were raised in a traditional learning environment.

Eventually, the rise of modern technology (computers, the internet, smartphones etc.) resulted to virtual or off-contact learning environments (or online courses). Recently, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have exponentially gained popularity to both teachers and learners. In fact, people now have access to several FREE online courses, if they want to learn something (anytime and anywhere!). People can now enroll to sites like coursera, openEdx, canvas network etc. For me, it’s a sign of learning revolution.

Who’s in control?…

In a traditional setting, teachers are more “in control” of the learning environment. On the other hand, a teacher has minimal intervention in an online course. Class elements are designed to be flexible in terms of time and location. Also, students navigate through an online course at his/her own pace. Hence, most online courses are viewed as a “personalized learning spaces”. Moreover, certain MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are anchored on the idea of building a network of users, who can learn from each other.

Web-Assisted VS. Blended…

Besides traditional lectures and online courses, educators have found opportunities on how both worlds can complement each other. All learning modalities that are somewhere between being traditional and online may be viewed as web-assisted (or web-enabled) or blended (or hybrid).

In UP, I think most teachers are implementing web-assisted classes more than blended classes. But first, what is the difference?

Well, it’s hard to say.

After reading through different online discussions, it seems that there’s no consensus on how a web assisted course differentiates from a blended course. On the other hand, The Sloan Consortium has agreed that at least 30% of learning elements are spent online in a blended set-up, while fewer are spent online in a web-assisted set-up. However, many think that definition is too rigid. The cutoff is meaningless in some situations. And I agree! Commonly, the amount of class elements blended designers put online is dependent on the needs and objectives of a course. Thus, certain courses may not require at least 30% of online interaction to become suited for blended set-up. Moreover, designing a blended course is a controlled process. “Enough is enough” and no unnecessary efforts should be experienced by the teachers or students.

Defining the exact difference is really a problem, but agreeing on a certain definition is important for administrative purposes and in institutionalizing blended classes. It is most esp. important during enrollment period for purposes of tagging which classes are blended.

Instead of battling over the differences, I decided to just accept these grey areas. If we accept the grey areas between these modalities, we can view the different learning environments in a spectrum. Some environments are more online, while some are more traditional.

I’ve created an infographic (as featured in this blog post) that presents these learning modalities as a spectrum of traditional and online learning environments. Moreover, I’ve included some arguable indicators and basic descriptions of what is expected in such learning environments.

First, I think it is best to contextualize blended learning as the optimal hybrid of online and face-to-face interaction, while a web-assisted class utilizes web tools as a support for certain class activities for efficiency and timeliness, but not mainly for instruction or assessment. In that sense, web-assisted classes are more traditional, only that certain “archaic” tools are replaced with web-based tools.  Examples of these are transitions from photocopying of slides to e-mailing of slides, submitting assignments in a drop box to uploading assignments in Drop Box etc. On the other hand, blended learning is more online dependent, because the online component are designed to retain a “teacher’s guidance” through self-administered contents and assessment tools. 

Consequently, I think blended learning requires a more rigorous “designing” process than web-assisted learning. In my opinion, technology is more of a necessary accessory in web-assisted classes, while technology is more of an interactive partner in blended classes. Also, an established VLE (virtual learning environment) or CMS (course management site) is very much needed for blended classes, while webpages may already suffice for web-assisted classes.

Finally, each learning modality has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, a particular style is best depending on context. Even though many researches argue that a blended learning environment enjoys the best of both worlds (online and face-to-face), not all courses are suited for blended learning. Moreover, just like any forms of teaching, proper knowledge and planning are needed to induce a successful and fruitful learning endeavor to students – whether the content is delivered traditionally, online or somewhere in the middle.


It is not important to define the exact differences in these modalities. Though being open and familiar to the different styles allows the teacher to explore and discover more interactive and beneficial ways of teaching. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the choice of environment is a matter of contextualizing and knowing what’s best for the teachers and the students.



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