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Online Learning vs Classroom Learning: Online or Traditional Classes?


Trying to decide between online learning vs traditional classroom learning can be extremely tricky. On the one hand, it’s 2019 and most of us have the technology in our pockets to access information on-the-go, so why would we commit to a campus college experience, that requires us to go to the same place every week for several years?

Yet on the other hand, there’s something magical about enrolling in college, buying a new backpack and heading onto campus with armfuls of books, and maybe a packed social schedule. It sounds romantic, it feels authentic, and it can bring out the academic in even the least scholarly of us.

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But what’s the best route to take? In this article, we compare and contrast some of the pros and cons of online vs classroom learning, to help you make an informed decision about what lies ahead.

Online Learning: Advantages

One of the biggest advantages of online learning is that you can study from anywhere. Tropical beach? From your bed? Staff room on your break at work? As long as you have an internet connection or a quiet room, you can learn from your laptop. You don’t need to spend time commuting every day, or re-locate your entire life to a new area. This could save you considerable amounts of money and stress in the long run, so it’s definitely an advantage to consider.

Online learning is also more accessible. Entry requirements are often more flexible, because online colleges can accommodate higher student numbers per course. Institutions like University of the People allow people to get a tuition-free, American accredited education, regardless of where they are in the world, allowing students to save money whilst gaining an all-important, reputable degree.

Online learning requires daily interaction with technology, from laptops to live-streamed lectures. So even without you realising it, you’ll be developing your technical literacy. This is a great transferable skill which will hold you in good stead for the future.

Another added bonus of online learning is less peer pressure from other students. You’ll be free to follow your own schedule and you won’t need to worry about what other students think of your thoughts or learning pace, because your learning experience will be more private, unless you choose to talk about it on course forums or social media, of course!

Online learning also costs less than traditional classroom-based experiences. A recent study by education analyst Ed Vosganian found that an undergraduate online degree could cost 50% less than an undergraduate on-campus course. Using statistics from a school in Florida, the study found that campus learning can cost $42,768 per year, whilst online learning can cost just $21,100, when extra costs like textbooks and accommodation are taken into account.

Similarly, a 2018 study by Arizona State University, commissioned by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, looked carefully at the return on investment of online courses at traditional universities. The study found that “savings for online courses ranged from $12 to $66 per credit hour, a difference of from 3 percent to 50 percent of the average credit hour costs.”

This suggests that you really can save time, money and stress from studying online, with an institution that has the infrastructure to support you on your learning journey.

Online Learning: Disadvantages

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On the flip-side, all this flexibility and independence means you need to be self-motivated to get results. Studying online means you will have less social interaction with other students and teachers, so there’s a greater possibility for the course to feel isolating.

However, you can counter this by using whatever resources your chosen institution makes available. For example, with degrees from University of the People, an online support system and regular interaction with course tutors means you’re never alone. Facebook and other social networks now mean you can connect with other online learners easily.

Another disadvantage to consider is that not all majors are available. Courses in business administration, computer science, and health science are readily available online, but if you want to deep-dive into hands-on courses like music or art, you may not be able to do this with an entirely online degree. Change is happening, but not all institutions have made all of their courses available online yet.

It can also be frustrating if you don’t understand something and online resources can’t help — sometimes it’s just nice to be able to pop in to see your course tutor during office hours, or to seek help from fellow students in the campus library or computer room.

You can also feel increased pressure to remember you are a student and it is up to you to get your work done. No one else is going to remind you, because your degree will take place inside your laptop (and your mind!) and won’t be immediately visible to other people you meet on a daily basis.

Traditional Learning: Advantages

Traditional classroom learning gives your life a structure and routine. With classes taking place at set times and the requirement to meet deadlines and attend classes face to face, it can help you establish discipline. This, of course, is a very useful transferable skill that employees will value when you graduate, so getting used to the ebb and flow of classroom life could hold you in good stead for the future.

You’ll also have continuous interaction with students and teachers. Even if it’s just a few hours per week, you’ll have a schedule that tells you exactly where and when you need to be each semester, and this routine can help you move forward with your studies and stay psychologically balanced.

It’s also well known that memories are made as you study. As a classroom learner, you can throw yourself into college life, whether that means joining the football team, taking part in a play or campaigning with other students for good causes that you believe in. It’s all available on campus, which could give your confidence and social life a real boost. It’ll certainly make learning more fun!

Traditional learning can also allow you to get a degree from a college that’s been around for longer. Studying at an “Ivy League” college in the US, for example, can feel more comforting, because you feel like you’re joining an established community of alumni. In reality, this may not actually make your degree any more useful, but the feeling that you’re joining a centuries’ old tradition can be reassuring anyway.

Traditional Learning: Disadvantages

Punctuality and attendance are important to campus universities. If you’re late or absent, it can work against you as your scores can be lowered to reflect this. Equally, if you are required to present something face-to-face and you don’t make a good impression, your mark may be lower. Traditional learning is more immediate — you won’t have as much time to prepare your responses, as a tutor could throw something at you in a seminar and expect you to respond accordingly.

Equally, if you drop-out or postpone your studies half-way through, perhaps because it’s just too much to juggle right now, you can lose a lot of money as campus based courses are considerably more expensive than on-line degrees.

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Class, written paper and exam dates are not flexible. You and your family will have to structure your lives, vacations and social lives around the college schedule for the duration of your studies. Are you ready to make this sacrifice? This doesn’t need to be a disadvantage, but make sure you’re prepared for the commitment before you sign up.


Choosing online learning vs classroom learning is not a simple dilemma. For every example of a successful online learner, you’ll find another person who found the responsibility to manage their own time and work-load too stressful.

It’s a good idea to conduct a SWOT analysis before you go any further. Take a large piece of paper, or a new Excel sheet, and write down all your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that online learning would provide, then do the same for traditional classroom learning. Once you have both documents side by side, you’ll be able to see which method of learning appeals to you more, and which one is a better fit for your current lifestyle and existing commitments. For more information about online learning with University of The People, click here.

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