Students’ Preferences for Teaching Formats, Approaches and Online Delivery Modes

The Teaching Excellence Council (TEC)
NUS Business School

The Teaching Excellence Council at the NUS Business School surveyed business students’ preference on teaching and learning modes. Here is a snapshot of their findings which have implications for teaching and learning in the new academic year and beyond.

Photo courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The NUS Business School’s Teaching Excellence Council (TEC) recently conducted a survey on students’ preferences for face-to-face classes, completely online classes, and blended classes. We received 858 responses, mainly from undergraduate business students. Analyses were conducted on 531 validated responses. 304 students provided a total of 579 qualitative comments which were coded and content-analysed. As the survey focused on preferred teaching formats, approaches and online delivery modes, we did not have responses on assessments. We share a summary of some insightful findings.

1) Preferences for Teaching Format

Students were first asked about their preferred teaching format (completely face-to-face, completely online or a mixture of the two). This was analysed based on nature of the module and class size.

    1. Nature of the Module
      Figure 1 shows preferences for largely quantitative modules (e.g., content involving analytics and mathematical calculations) versus largely qualitative modules. For largely qualitative modules, respondents still preferred completely face-to-face classes. However, surprisingly, students were also generally fine with online learning (33.15%), and more so compared to quantitative modules (23.73%).

      Figure 1. Findings on students’ preferred teaching format based on the nature of the module.
    2. Class Size
      While the overall preference for modules seems to be for face-to-face classes, when class size was factored in, the results were a little different (see Figure 2). That four in ten students preferred a completely online teaching format for large classes is a significant finding. Prior to COVID-19, most of our large lectures were face-to-face, which seems to be the least favoured approach. This calls for further evaluation and experiments in order for all large classes to eventually consider using online learning.

      Figure 2. Findings on students’ preferred teaching format, taking into account class size.

2) Feelings and Feedback about Learning Experiences

Students shared their feelings on the three teaching approaches. Table 1 highlights the differences.
When it comes to fatigue, there is not much difference among the three approaches. However, the findings indicate that students feel more inspired during face-to-face lessons.

Qualitative comments from the same survey highlight connectivity issues, time lags or difficulty in class participation. These could have contributed to the frustrations about online lessons.

Students also gave feedback on their preferred teaching approaches in relation to a number of factors, as summarised in Table 2.

Generally, face-to-face classes fared better in all the dimensions listed. Respondents perceived pre-recorded lessons as requiring a lot of self-discipline.

3) Preferences for Online Delivery Mode

Students were also asked about their preferred online delivery mode (namely, purely pre-recorded lessons, live online lessons or a combination of both). The results were close, with about a third of students choosing each of the three approaches as their top choice. However, combining the overall first and second preferences, it became clear that a blended approach (a combination of pre-recorded and live online lessons) was most preferred.

4) Tips and Best Practices

a) For pre-recorded lessons, 29.9% of respondents favoured 30-minute presentations as the maximum length. Therefore, if the content delivery is long, it may be good to break it up into chunks with videos lasting no longer than 30 minutes each. For live online lessons, most preferred a duration of 1 to 1.5 hours (40.4%).

b) For the blended approach, students preferred:

      • live online lessons not to take up the entirety of class time. They appreciated it when instructors factored in the time for watching the asynchronous pre-recorded lessons.
      • instructors to upload course materials at least several days before a live Zoom session.
      • instructors to incorporate in-built quizzes within pre-recorded videos to ensure understanding.

c) To increase engagement during synchronous online sessions, students recommended:

      • popular methods such as breakout rooms, the chat, poll, “yes/no”, and “raise hands” functions in Zoom.
      • for fellow students to turn on their web-cams for greater connection and participation.
      • for instructors to cold call students with questions or quizzes; or simply get them to present in class.


Overall, with the exception of large classes, the findings suggest a preference for face-to-face classes. However, online classes offered at the NUS Business School were also perceived as favourable learning opportunities by the survey’s respondents. Regardless of the nature of the module, participation in online classes can be motivated with class participation grading, and facilitated asynchronously (such as forum discussions) and synchronously (such as live breakout rooms in Zoom).

These results encourage us to rethink how to provide our students with engaging learning experiences. We conclude that online teaching is here to stay. Moving forward, faculty members will have to be versatile in combining and delivering different teaching formats.


The Teaching Excellence Council (TEC) at the NUS Business School was set up in 2013 to coordinate initiatives on enhancing teaching quality, and to build a strong culture for teaching excellence. The AY2019-2020 TEC members were Ravi Chandran, Marleen Dieleman, Doreen Kum, Vivien Lim, Liu Qizhang, Susan See Tho, Usa Skulkerewathana, Tambyah Siok Kuan, Ruth Tan, and Yeo Wee Yong.


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