Online or traditional face-to-face classroom? Does it matter?

  Students are engaged in the social exchange theory as in accordance to the social psychologist (Blau, 1964) in the course of which student instinctively likely weigh the cost and benefits of pursuing a course, more so, his/her relationship with the lecturer. The implementation of social distancing policy as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 has forced schools to close their doors, and this has caused unpredicted disruption of customary face-to-face classroom teaching and learning method. Online learning serves as a crisis-response method of higher educational institutions for the Covid-19 pandemic. Henceforth, questions raised about the lecturer-student relationship on the issue of student engagement and retention leads to effective teaching and learning.

            Branch and Dousay (2015) corroborated that the effectiveness of online teaching and learning has so much relied on the design and planning of instruction with the application of an organised model. Against this background, Leszczyński et al. (2018) disclosed digital transformation is not a novel phenomenon and it has been practising by some higher education institutions in the past. Possibily, Kopp et al. (2019) presumed that change, pace, technology, competencies, and financing as the hindrances to the digital transformation of many higher educational institutions.

In this way, does online or physical classroom matter in the lecturer-student engagement leads to effective teaching and learning? According to Vygotsky (1978), the following factors serve as the key drivers to the success of the student learning process,

  • Competent lecturer to guide the student.
  • Scaffolding or supportive activities provided by the lecturer could guide the student through the zone of proximal development.
  • Social interactions enable the student to observe and practice their skills.

Educators come from all walks of life; we have reason to believe every lecturer come along with their self-fulfilling prophecy. In this manner, the lecturer takes a key role to guide the students to achieve their highest potential. As a learning educator, the initial action is to bring about a positive learning environment to facilitate the transformation of inquiry in addition to develop instructional goals. Interactions in the classroom begin in a form of equilibrium but students will be caught in disequilibrium as the learning process take place until they reach a new equilibrium, a stage where they have demonstrated regular performance in achieving the course outcomes. Simultaneously, teaching is also a learning process from students, peers, and parents to gain new ideas, strategies, and new philosophies to aid the students on their journey of discovery throughout the course. As such, the influence of a lecturer is a key to drive the student’s own natural desire to learn.

Seeing that every student has their own definite set of strengths and weaknesses. It is widely believed everyone can use their talent in a broad range of applications until they can always sharpen their talent by learning the required skills later. More so, everybody can learn, thus, knowing oneself is pivotal in the process of decision making. By knowing and understanding one’s competence, one can set and reach appropriate goals and altogether live more productively. In this context, students are expected to come with developed cognitive ability, self-discipline, and self-motivation in class and every course that they pursue. This being said, they will certainly grow and benefit from the fruitful college life under such a bittersweet symphony. Given the advancement of accessibility of the internet, students who posse a self-regulated learning attitude is crucial specifically in the virtual environment.

Not only that, but individuals also gained a new appreciation for people surrounding them based on undergoing an experience that impacts their worldview. Thereby, this incident may lead to the transformation of the individuals. This is aligned with transformational learning, which can occur gradually or from a sudden, in a structured educational environment or the classroom of ordinary life changes the people perspectives and the way they see themselves and the outside world (Clark, 1993). The student is signified as the image of transformation just like the caterpillars emerging as butterflies (Baumgartner, 2001) on account of the far-reaching changes process in transformation learning. Hence, Baumgartner further notes that this will inspire lifelong learning since much of our learning is accumulative.

Taken together, good rapport building between lecturer-student is essential on the matter of students’ engagement, retention in the cultivation of positive classroom experience and environment which leads to effective teaching and learning. Many may believe that lecturers act as beacons in times of solitude and darkness on the students learning journey. Interactive activities are crucial as disclosed by Vigotsky, a student able to reach their learning goal by performing problem-solving tasks with their lecturer or interact with their peers. More so, he illustrated in the zone of proximal development where a student would not be able to reach the same level of learning by working alone. Finally, and most importantly, respect and encouragement are the core elements in exploiting the potential capability of a student. When all is said and done, effective learning results in a change of some kind in the students is not a matter of the adoption of online delivery methods or the traditional face-to-face classroom teaching and learning for courses.



Dr Vivien Ting Sew Huey

Head, School of Business and Accounting

SEGi College Penang



Blau, P.M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Wiley.

Baumgartner, L. M. (2001). An update on transformational learning. New directions for adult and continuing education2001(89), 15.

Chism, N. V. N. (1998). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement. Essays on Teaching Excellence9(3), 1-2.

Clark, M. C. (1993). Transformational learning. New directions for adult and continuing education1993(57), 47-56.

Kopp, M., Gröblinger, O., & Adams, S. (2019, March 11–13). Five common assumptions that prevent digital transformation at higher education institutions. INTED2019 Proceedings (pp. 1448–1457).

Leszczyński, P., Charuta, A., Łaziuk, B., Gałązkowski, R., Wejnarski, A., Roszak, M., & Kołodziejczak, B. (2018). Multimedia and interactivity in distance learning of resuscitation guidelines: A randomised controlled trial. Interactive Learning Environments, 26(2), 151–162.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds. and Trans.; original works published 1930–1935).

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