Online vs. blended learning: which is better?


In the times before technology, traditional teaching methods were heavily reliant on print-based material, as classwork was done from a student book and in turn homework was completed in a workbook.

It's a proven approach, and fundamentally the anatomy of the classroom hasn’t changed all that much. What’s different now, however, is the prevalence of technology and its place in the world of education. As technology advances around us, so does the way we teach and learn.

Cassette tapes were leveraged as an education tool in the 1970s and 80s, and we then transitioned to the computing advancements of the 1990s, which made way for more sophisticated use of laptops in the classroom setting.

As such, we saw the possibilities of online teaching methods emerge as a new teaching approach that could complement face-to-face learning.

While the technology at the time was limited, it signified a landmark moment in teaching. Educators realised that teaching and learning can be done outside of the classroom and holds vast benefits for learners.

In the context of English language teaching, there are a number of variables that are changing the way learning is done, and they are as follows: learner appetite for on-demand access to information is as high as ever; competition for attention is fierce; and of course, the evolution of technology is as rapid as ever.

Ultimately, the way we learn is not linear and everyone has their own learning journey, so the challenge for teachers crafting their approach for modern English language learners remains – what is the best approach?

Enter online learning and blending learning. Brick and click, tailored learning, digital learning, and so on. We often hear of these terms, but it’s not always clear on how this looks, feels, and functions in practice.

Let’s dive into the online learning approach

What is online learning? This approach is essentially a learning environment that exists online. Learners can practice at their own rate, do their homework in their own time, and self-direct their learning.

Kayo Taguchi is Pearson Asia's English language teaching (ELT) portfolio manager, and she says that the most beneficial aspect to the online teaching approach is the higher volume of data to tap in to, and so that means being able to track progress, analyse the numbers behind learner patterns, and in turn apply learnings. 

“Teachers are creating online classroom environments, where they're doing interactive activities such as: polling, breakout rooms and other team-based activities all online. What this is presenting is an opportunity for students to transition to do their homework outside of the classroom, and even go that step further to do additional study in their own time because the online environment makes it possible.”

While the online learning approach allows students to get creative with their approach to doing homework and extracurricular study, there are challenges associated with the online-only approach.

For Kayo, this approach is reliant on access to technology, a sound internet connection, and disciplined learners.

“There's the technology side of things when we’re learning and teaching online, for example, when people are accidentally on mute, or if learners don’t have computers, or their internet isn’t holding up, or they're looking at other things on their phone – that kind of general challenge is present.”

And for teachers, there’s the administrative considerations of getting the classroom online and some level of platform upskilling to understand how to get the most out of the online classroom environment.

Kayo says that with a little bit of training and a clear plan in place, the online teaching approach can be very effective.

“For example, if learners have missed a class then teachers can provide a recording of the online experience or a PDF that provides an overview of the lesson. And during unprecedented times like we have experienced with COVID-19, you can access courses from anywhere, and you don’t need the physical classroom.”

So, what about the blended learning approach?

As the name suggests, blended learning is a mix between two methods that is as follows: traditional, face-to-face learning and online learning. If we visualise it in the context of a Venn diagram, it looks like this:

  • Region A denotes online learning
  • Region B denotes face-to-face learning
  • The union of A and B denotes blended learning