Online vs. Classroom: Course Engagement and Attention with Large Groups of Students

25 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2021 Last revised: 20 Jun 2023

See all articles by Iñaki Rodríguez-Longarela

Iñaki Rodríguez-Longarela

Stockholm University - Stockholm Business School

Date Written: November 6, 2021


The expansion of videoconference lectures has raised concerns about the potential harm they could represent for the attention and engagement of college students. By observing the behavior of a large population of participants in an identical flipped course before and after March 2020, levels of attention and engagement were estimated with a novel methodology. We find no evidence supporting such harmful effects. Rather, our results suggest that in fact such levels could be superior when virtual live lectures are used. This finding seems to be driven by a larger active participation online, not only over the course of the course, but also over the course of each lecture. The result is robust to multiple specifications of our regressions. It also translates into a similar or superior impact on course grades of online lecture participation when compared to such participation in face-to-face sessions. Up to our knowledge, this study represents the first serious attempt to evaluate synchronous online teaching, as opposed to the focus of previous studies where all interaction between teacher and student is mostly reduced to e-mail contact. Although our execution does not follow a randomized control design, it does exploit the shock of the pandemic to address the potential self-selection of students into the two versions of teaching delivery. The results, if taken at face value, may have clear policy implications given the much lower cost of videoconference lectures. In particular, they may inform future efforts to expand access to higher education in developing countries and conflict zones.

Keywords: attention, engagement, natural experiment, videoconference lectures, classroom lectures, online teaching

JEL Classification: A22,I23, C99

Suggested Citation

Rodríguez Longarela, Iñaki, Online vs. Classroom: Course Engagement and Attention with Large Groups of Students (November 6, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Iñaki Rodríguez Longarela (Contact Author)

Stockholm University - Stockholm Business School ( email )


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