Resumo BACKGROUND: The importance of using technologies such as e-learning in different disciplines is discussed in the literature. Researchers have measured the effectiveness of e-learning in a number of fields.Considering the lack of research on the effectiveness of online learning in dental education particularly in Iran, the advantages of these learning methods and the positive university atmosphere regarding the use of online learning. This study, therefore, aims to compare the effects of two methods of teaching (virtual versus traditional) on student learning. METHODS: This post-test only design study approached 40, fifth year dental students of Shiraz University of Medical Sciences. From this group, 35 students agreed to participate. These students were randomly allocated into two groups, experimental (virtual learning) and comparison (traditional learning). To ensure similarity between groups, we compared GPAs of all participants by the Mann-Whitney U test (P > 0.05). The experimental group received a virtual learning environment courseware package specifically designed for this study, whereas the control group received the same module structured in a traditional lecture form. The virtual learning environment consisted of online and offline materials. Two identical valid, reliable post-tests that consisted of 40 multiple choice questions (MCQs) and 4 essay questions were administered immediately (15 min) after the last session and two months later to assess for knowledge retention. Data were analyzed by SPSS version 20. RESULTS: A comparison of the mean knowledge score of both groups showed that virtual learning was more effective than traditional learning (effect size = 0.69). CONCLUSION: The newly designed virtual learning package is feasible and will result in more effective learning in comparison with lecture-based training. However further studies are needed to generalize the findings of this study.