Online Learning: Group-Based Options

Lesson 3: Group-Based Options


Group-based options

Group-based options refer to groups of people learning together online. These opportunities are run by organizations like companies and schools. Sometimes you meet with the instructor and other learners, and sometimes you don’t. 

What does group-based online learning look like? There are modules, webcasts, Zoom meetings–you name it! There are tons of different choices being offered at any given time. 

There are more “traditional” group-based options related to work and school. They might help you to gain new skills, or they might lead to an end goal, like a certification or degree. In addition, there’s a wide variety of options that learners can do just for fun.

Group-based options can be broken into two categories: those which include face-to-face meetings, and those which allow you to work independently. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of these two formats…

Face-to-face online learning

Face-to-face options (sometimes referred to as “synchronous” or “F2F”) happen in real-time. You meet online with the instructor, and typically there are other learners. Common platforms include Zoom and WebEx.

For example, you might be enrolled in an online class which leads to a grade or certificate. When it comes to a virtual face-to-face format, there are three main benefits:

  • These meetings are often interactive, so you might enjoy the social aspect.
  • You’ll get a little more structure to kickstart your learning process. 
  • This setup holds you accountable; you feel the need to “show up.”

This last benefit is especially helpful if the subject matter is challenging. All three of these aspects–along with a potential end goal, like a grade–provide extrinsic motivation. In other words, this learning environment can really motivate you to succeed. 

Note: If you want to learn more about how to use Zoom, check out our free tutorial. Their “basic plan” allows you to set up an account for free. 

Working independently

Working independently is sometimes referred to as the self-paced or “asynchronous” format. You don’t meet with your instructor or other students face-to-face. You might watch a pre-recorded lecture of a person talking, but it isn’t happening in real-time.

Massive open online courses–more commonly known as “MOOCs”–fall into this category. Anyone can enroll, so sometimes there are thousands of participants. Common platforms include edX and Stanford Online. Benefits include:

  • You can learn at your own pace, which is great if you have a tight schedule. 
  • These options are often free or cost less (compared to F2F options).
  • You can learn what you need from it; it’s okay if you don’t complete or finish it.

MOOCs aren’t the only asynchronous options. Many companies and schools provide similar formats, but instead of having zero interactions, you do get feedback from an instructor and have assignment deadlines. You’re still working independently, on your own time–but there’s written work, too, and sometimes an end goal (like a grade or certificate).

Many learners appreciate having flexibility. But in order to be successful, you really need to be intrinsically motivated, or self-motivated. It’s helpful if you’re enthusiastic about the subject, or feel strongly that it’s important; otherwise you might lose interest, or not dedicate enough time to your learning.

Some terms you might come across

It’s important to know that not all of the group-based options fall neatly into these categories. Maybe you only meet once, for a talk or special event. Here are a few more terms you might stumble across:

  • A webcast is a presentation streamed to a large audience through a platform. There’s one (or more) people talking, who may/may not show slides. Sometimes webcasts are recorded so they can be watched by viewers at a later date.
  • A webinar is like a webcast, but there’s an interactive element. For example, maybe there is a chatbox where viewers can ask the presenter questions. Typically the viewers can’t be seen, which is the same as a webcast.
  • A module (more common in British English) is a unit of compiled resources. Maybe there are recorded videos, or links to materials you can download and print. Courses can be made up of modules, but modules can also stand alone.

If you want to learn more about the online learning platforms that are out there, check out our Additional Resources under GCF Teacher Guides. While many of these websites offer little to no-cost versions and courses, you’ll need to spend some time researching your options before making a decision.


  • Face-to-face (F2F) or “synchronous” online learning includes virtual meetings in real-time. These options are more interactive, structured, and can help you to hold yourself accountable.
  • You could also choose an “asynchronous” option so that you can work independently. This format allows you to learn at your own pace, pay less money, and take what you need from it. 
  • There are even more formats to consider, including webinars, webcasts, and modules. Researching your options thoroughly will help you to get a sense of what’s out there.