3. Comparing Modes of Delivery

3.3. Challenging the Supremacy of Face-To-Face Teaching

Although there has been a great deal of mainly inconclusive research comparing online learning with face-to-face teaching in terms of student learning, there is very little evidence or even theory to guide decisions about what is best done online and what is best done face-to-face in a blended learning context, or about the circumstances or conditions when fully online learning is in fact a better option than classroom teaching. Generally, the assumption appears to have been that face-to-face teaching is the default option by virtue of its superiority and online learning is used only when circumstances prevent the use of face-to-face teachings, such as when students cannot get to the campus, or when classes are so large that interaction with students is at a minimum.

However, online learning has now become so prevalent and effective in so many contexts that it is time to ask:

what are the unique characteristics of face-to-face teaching that make it pedagogically different from online learning?

It is possible of course that there is nothing pedagogically unique about face-to-face teaching, but given the rhetoric around ‘the magic of the campus’ (Sarma, 2013) and the hugely expensive fees associated with elite campus-based teaching, or indeed the high cost of publicly funded campus-based education, it is about the time that we had some evidence-based theory about what makes face-to-face teaching so special.