What Is the Difference Between Online and On-Campus Classes?
The biggest difference between online and on-campus classes is instruction delivery. Going to college on campus is straightforward — you show up to class with your peers at a scheduled day and time, you receive instruction, engage in class discussions, and leave to complete your assignments. You can access the school's computer lab or library if you lack the technology or space to study at home. However, attending class online is a bit more nuanced.
Online courses are primarily conducted over a learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard.
Your instructor may record video lectures that you can watch through the LMS or a social media platform, such as YouTube. You use the LMS to submit assignments and engage with your instructor and peers through comments and posts. Presentations and group projects may be completed over a video conferencing platform, such as Zoom, which may be integrated within the LMS. It's your responsibility to make sure you can purchase or access the technology you'll need to study online.
There are more subtle differences between online and on-campus learning that can be equally as important as course delivery. Considering the factors listed below can help you determine whether studying online or on campus is right for you.
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What To Consider When Choosing Between Online and On-Campus Learning
Accreditation, learning style, convenience, the environment, and the ability to stay organized are factors to consider when choosing between online and on-campus learning. It helps to understand each consideration because it can play a crucial role in your success as a student.
Accreditation establishes that a school provides quality education, meeting high academic standards regardless of program delivery. It also enables you to use federal financial aid to help pay tuition. You'll want to choose a school that receives accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Additionally, industry organizations may programmatically accredit degree programs to ensure students' learning outcomes meet employment, credentialing, and licensure standards.
Your Learning Style
Your learning style can determine whether online or on-campus learning is right for you. For example, if you learn best by reading and writing, you may benefit from attending classes online because they often require more of these activities through independent study. However, if you are more of a visual or hands-on learner, you may appreciate being on campus with your classmates to exchange ideas as you learn and problem-solve together in real-time.
Attending online college classes provides convenience and flexibility, especially if you plan to work full-time while going to school. If you take asynchronous online courses, you can participate throughout the week as your time allows. Even if classes are synchronous, requiring you to join at certain times, you can do so wherever you have a broadband connection, whether on your laptop or a mobile device.
Attending school online may be more affordable than on campus. Schools often waive campus fees and charge flat-rate tuition for online students regardless of residency. You also won't incur commuting costs, such as gas and parking, and you'll save on your car's wear and tear.
Online education can provide accessibility if you don't live close to a college campus, the program you want is unavailable locally, or you work and need scheduling flexibility. Accelerated and self-paced programs are often more accessible online because they require independent learning. Additionally, if you live with a disability and find it challenging to navigate a college campus, online courses offer greater accessibility.
Some prefer a campus environment full of activity and energy, especially one that offers student activities and events. Attending school on campus may also make it easier to build relationships with classmates and instructors. However, you may find attending class on campus distracting and prefer to work independently at home or another location. This can be especially true of students in accelerated programs requiring intense focus and study.
Your Organization and Time Management Skills
In order to work autonomously, it takes solid organizational and time management skills as well as knowing how to study effectively. You'll be responsible for scheduling time to participate in weekly online discussions, checking for responses, and managing assignments and deadlines. However, others may find themselves easily distracted or with limited space to work in an organized fashion and prefer the structure of an on-campus classroom to keep them on task.
Attending college on campus is a great way to network with your instructors and peers and develop personal and professional relationships, and it can help with your career after graduation. However, you can still network while attending classes online if you make the extra effort and understand how to use technology. You can increase your networking opportunities by forming or joining online study groups and partnering with your peers on projects over video conferencing. Making sure to respond to student posts and engage in online discussions can be an easy way to build relationships.
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The Pros and Cons of Online vs In-Person Classes
In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are other pros and cons to consider regarding in-person vs. online classes:
Online students may represent more diversity than a school's on-campus student body. Online learning is accessible, creating opportunities for students who may not be able to attend otherwise. This includes nontraditional students with workforce experience, students with disabilities, those on active duty in the military, and students located across the country and the world. Different backgrounds and perspectives can broaden and enrich learning.
It may be easier to engage in class discussions online than on campus. You may find it more comfortable engaging online through writing posts rather than giving presentations in front of a crowded classroom in person. Those who consider themselves introverts may find online learning particularly appealing because of the autonomy it affords. Online learning can also allow for each student's voice to be heard.
There may be more programs available on campus than online. Not all majors may be available through distance learning. However, almost 4,000 degree-granting schools offer online programs, which increases your odds of finding one that helps you meet your goals.
Learning resources may be available directly on campus but may be harder to access online. If you need library services, a computer lab, writing help, or a tutor, it might not be as easy to access virtually. However, schools typically provide access to these resources for their online students as well because fees for these services are often built into tuition charges.
Online learning can create additional expenses. If you decide to learn online, you'll need to prepare a workspace, which may mean purchasing furniture and other supplies. You may also have to upgrade or purchase technology, such as a printer, laptop, and software — you'll also be responsible for their maintenance. However, if you were on campus, you could use space at the library to work and the technology provided through a computer lab.
FAQs About Going to School on Campus or Online
Is It Better To Take Classes Online or In Person?
It may be better for you to take classes online if you live far away from school, work full time, or enjoy working autonomously without distraction. You may prefer taking classes in person if you enjoy the engagement and social interaction of a classroom environment, are eager to participate in student activities, or prefer the structure of attending on campus.
Is Online College Cheaper Than In Person?
Online college can be cheaper than attending in person because online colleges often waive campus fees and charge flat-rate tuition regardless of where you live. You'll also save on housing and transportation fees, and if you have children, you may not need to hire a babysitter or send them to daycare while you're studying at home, which can save a lot of money.
Are Online Classes Easier Than In Person?
Online classes aren't necessarily easier than in-person because they are typically held to the same academic standards, regardless of delivery. Online classes are often taught by the same instructors who teach classes on campus and are designed to deliver the same student outcomes no matter where you study.
Is Online College As Good As Regular School?
Online college can be as good as regular school as long as institutions and programs are accredited. Accreditation ensures high academic standards and quality regardless of where students do most of their learning. The curriculum for online programs is often identical to those delivered on campus.
There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to attend college online or on campus. While the differences may seem obvious at first, you may discover additional considerations to make when choosing how to pursue your goals. The decision to enroll in an online or on-campus program should be made carefully to save undo stress, time, and expense.