Online Classes or Face-to-face Learning- Which is Better?

Moderate levels of stress have a positive effect on learning. The researchers tried to determine if stress occurs to the same extent during online instruction as during face-to-face coaching. Students who took an in-person or online anatomy course had their various physiological parameters measured. Although this course required an equal amount of mental effort, the online group showed significantly lower levels of physiological arousal. A team led by Morris Gellisch and Professor Beate Brand-Saberi describes the findings in the online edition of the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, released in July 2022.

Can the learning process be affected by stress?

Symptoms of physiological stress include elevated cortisol levels, decreased heart rate variability, and increased heart rate.

‘People show different physiological changes depending on whether they take an in-person or online course.’

“We know that stress strongly affects learning and memory, as well as attention retention. And not just in a negative way. Moderate physiological arousal has a positive effect if it occurs temporarily in the context of the learning task.Up until now, the difference between face-to-face teaching and online teaching has often been assessed using questionnaires in which subjective parameters like motivation or perceived stress were surveyed, Morris Gellisch said.

Results of online learning compared to face-to-face learning

The researchers examined the heart rate variability and salivary cortisol levels of 82 students enrolled in an anatomy course. The students are divided into two groups – online and classroom. This course is taught in a hybrid manner. While one group attends the lecture in the histology room, other students follow the same online class. The researchers used specialized sensors to monitor heart rate variability over the entire 120-minute session in a typical course day. In addition, they collected saliva samples at the start, 60 minutes after the course, and at the end. The health parameters of students taking online classes were measured using identical equipment and detailed instructions.


Online sessions reduce physiological arousal significantly. Lower cortisol levels decrease sympathetic activity and greater parasympathetic activity are all signs of this. The last two parameters suggest stress levels calculated from heart rate variability. The students felt more secure when participating in the online seminar.

The researchers designed the questionnaire to assess subjective cognitive characteristics, such as how enjoyable it was to take a course. One result was a correlation between higher sympathetic nervous system activity and satisfaction with face-to-face learning. The online team did not discover this association.

Source: Medindia

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