Differences between online whiteboard and interactive whiteboard

Are Online Whiteboards and Interactive Whiteboards Different?

Are there any differences between an online whiteboard and an interactive whiteboard? Is an online whiteboard not supposed to be interactive? Well, yes, and yes. 

First introduced by SMART Technologies in 1991, an interactive whiteboard retains the idea of a physical whiteboard whereas an online whiteboard exists in browsers or as an application on mobile devices. While both types of whiteboards are ‘interactive,’ we will refer to each of these as an interactive whiteboard and an online whiteboard for simplicity. 

What is an interactive whiteboard? 

An interactive whiteboard displays multimedia resources (e.g. images, videos, documents, slideshows) in a classroom. These features are controlled directly from the whiteboard instead of a secondary device. In other words, you can think of an interactive whiteboard as a computerised whiteboard. 

An interactive whiteboard has a touchscreen display that functions as a whiteboard for teachers and students to write on. 

Older models of interactive whiteboards feature a projector attached to the mainframe (see image below). 

 Projector-based interactive whiteboard
Projector-based interactive whiteboard. Image by Tomasz Mikołajczyk from Pixabay

Now, interactive whiteboards manufactured by SMART Technologies are LED displays that run on the Windows Operating system. These interactive whiteboards retain the ability for users to annotate with a special marker. Writing on an interactive whiteboard does not differ much from writing on a regular whiteboard. 

If you are curious about how an interactive whiteboard works, please watch the live demonstration below before reading the rest of this article. 

An Interactive Whiteboard is not the same as an online whiteboard

An online whiteboard is different from an interactive whiteboard. While an interactive whiteboard is a fixture in classrooms, an online whiteboard is a software or application that broadcasts a whiteboard onto different screens over the Internet. 

This article seeks to distinguish an online whiteboard from an interactive whiteboard. Just as interactive whiteboards are an improvement from a traditional whiteboard, we will also argue that an online whiteboard is an improvement from interactive whiteboards.

For this article, we will focus on HeyHi’s online whiteboard, an application that includes calendaring and video conferencing features on top of an online whiteboard.

The following are some of the criteria we will consider in this analysis:

  1. Portability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability to read different file types
  4. Number of users at any one time
  5. Costs

Online whiteboard vs. Interactive whiteboard

1. Portability 

As mentioned above, an interactive whiteboard is a fixture in classrooms. Powered by a computer, an interactive whiteboard features a touchscreen that resembles a physical whiteboard.

 Projector-based interactive whiteboard
Projector-based interactive whiteboard. Image by Steve Riot from Pixabay

An interactive whiteboard is an eighty-inch device that cannot be easily transferred from one location to another. In contrast, an online whiteboard merely requires users to have access to a mobile device and a broadband connection. 

In the event of school disruptions, just as we are experiencing now amid a pandemic, the physical limits of an interactive whiteboard impede its use for remote learning. 

Fortunately, an online whiteboard is free from location-based restrictions. An online whiteboard facilitates collaboration between students whether they are in classrooms or isolated with miles between them. 

 HeyHi’s online whiteboard is accessible across a range of devices
HeyHi’s online whiteboard is accessible across a range of devices. Photo by HeyHi.

2. Accessibility

A study published by Western Michigan University reveals that student-to-student interactions “improved their learning by enhancing their knowledge of literacy and teaching and their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” From this study, it appears that interactions between students can have immense benefits on students’ learning experience. 

For students to interact with and learn from their peers, avenues for interaction should be accessible to most, if not all, students. 

An interactive whiteboard can only be accessed from the classroom that it is installed in whereas an online whiteboard works independently even without an eighty-inch device.

HeyHi’s online whiteboard operates in browsers and is also available for download on Android and Apple devices. Given that 92% of all students own a smartphone, laptop, or tablet (see infographic below), most students will be able to access HeyHi’s online whiteboard at any time and from anywhere in the world.

Why online whiteboards are better: Device ownership for students of different education levels in the US
Device ownership for students of different education levels in the US. Infographic from Harris Interactive; Pearson published in Statista.

With its compatibility across various devices, HeyHi’s online whiteboard is a better choice than an interactive whiteboard. HeyHi’s online whiteboard allows more students to contribute their opinions and ideas to a shared whiteboard. 

While both interactive whiteboards and online whiteboards boast interactive elements, it is obvious that online whiteboards pose lower barriers to entry. With greater accessibility, HeyHi’s online whiteboard can cultivate an inclusive learning environment more effectively than an interactive whiteboard.

3. Ability to read different file types

Most interactive whiteboards are only able to read their respective ‘.iwb’ file type. In other words, most users will not be able to share their working files on interactive whiteboards. 

In this aspect, HeyHi’s online whiteboard provides more convenience for users as they are allowed to upload PDF files and images to the shared whiteboard. Here, it is important to note that PDFs and images are also the most accessible file formats across devices. 

With HeyHi’s online whiteboard, students can easily upload photos of their worked solutions taken with their phones. Once these images or PDFs are shared, all participants in the online lesson will be able to annotate and provide their input on them. 

Online whiteboard and its ability to read different file types compared to interactive whiteboards
Importing an image of a worked solution to HeyHi’s online whiteboard for a presentation. Gif created by the writer on imgPlay.

4. Number of users

An interactive whiteboard enables up to twenty users to write on it simultaneously. To do so, users have to be in contact with the board. Can you imagine twenty students vying for space to write on an eighty-inch interactive whiteboard? Due to space constraints, the number of students that can collaborate at any one time will likely be lower than twenty.

Fortunately, HeyHi’s online whiteboard accommodates up to one hundred users at a time. Since class sizes seldom approach anywhere near one hundred, HeyHi’s online whiteboard ensures that most students in a class would be able to collaborate in real-time.

With each student accessing the online whiteboard from their mobile devices, space constraint is less of an issue. Therefore, HeyHi’s online whiteboard provides opportunities for more students to contribute their ideas. 

HeyHi's online whiteboard
HeyHi’s online whiteboard. Photo by HeyHi.

5. Costs 

An interactive whiteboard may be a great addition to classrooms but it also costs a whopping $5,000 to install whereas HeyHi’s online whiteboard is free to download for Apple and Android devices. 

When comparing online whiteboards and interactive whiteboards, the high costs of purchasing an interactive whiteboard for every classroom may be neither affordable nor feasible for most schools.

Recognising that each educator has different needs, HeyHi’s online whiteboard offers different tiers of subscription that cater to each educator’s budget. 

If you are thinking of using HeyHi’s online whiteboard for small classes, remedial lessons, or tutoring sessions, you would be pleased to know that HeyHi is free for teachers to invite up to four students per session. You can upgrade at any time should you wish to expand your use of HeyHi’s online whiteboard to larger class sizes. 

Please refer to the pricing list below for more information. 

HeyHi's online whiteboard pricing list: more affordable than an interactive whiteboard.
HeyHi’s pricing list. Screenshot by the writer.


This analysis has relied on the following factors to distinguish between an interactive whiteboard and an online whiteboard:

  1. Portability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability to read different file types
  4. Number of users at any one time
  5. Costs

Both interactive whiteboards and online whiteboards introduce elements of interactivity and are upgrades from traditional whiteboards. However, HeyHi’s online whiteboard is more accessible and has lower barriers to entry as compared to an interactive whiteboard. 

HeyHi’s online whiteboard costs less, is compatible with most mobile devices, and can be accessed from anywhere and at any time. HeyHi’s online whiteboard facilitates collaborative learning beyond a physical classroom and is thus a more worthy investment than an interactive whiteboard. If you are interested in giving HeyHi’s online whiteboard a try in your classroom or online lesson, please request a demo or even experience the user interface for yourself!

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