Cynthia Sullivan
Written By - Cynthia Sullivan

Check MarkEdited By Gabriel D.

Check MarkReview & Contribution By Jake Wilson

With emerging technologies and a changing educational landscape, most colleges offer multiple learning modes. Recent global challenges like the pandemic have changed how education is delivered today. Regardless of the degree pursued, students can choose the online, offline, or hybrid mode — which integrates both components. This article will systematically contrast the two main options to help you decide which program type will suit you better.

Online vs In Person Classes

Table Of Contents

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

What is Traditional Learning or In-Person Learning?

In traditional or in-person learning, students and teachers are physically present inside the classroom. The instructor will deliver instructions and lessons on a specific topic. Several pedagogical methods and tools are used, including chalk or whiteboard, student-led demonstrations, group studies, and more. Students experience college in real-time, build interpersonal relations, take advantage of on-campus student resources, and connect with professors or counselors. In-person learning is preferred by those who want to participate in hands-on learning experiences with teachers and peers. 

How Are Classrooms Structured?

Traditional classrooms typically have a set time for students to attend the class, and the instructor will deliver lessons to students in person. The duration and frequency of classes differ depending on the college and curriculum. Graduate classes tend to have research opportunities, independent study and thinking, and working closely with an advisor.

What Can You Expect?

In a traditional classroom, one can expect in-person teaching in which the teacher actively engages face-to-face with their students. Several academic activities are conducted, like active discussions on essays, research papers, and other study materials. Colleges structure, schedule, and deliver learning based on a standardized curriculum. Teachers conduct tests and exams under the supervision of faculty members. Students set up meetings with their professors or guidance counselors to understand their performance in class, get feedback on projects, and more. Those with a thesis-based degree can access libraries and research materials to study individually and work collaboratively with their peers or dissertation guides. For some degrees, students can get hands-on training in the classroom or field, enhancing their knowledge of that subject. 

What is Online Learning?

Online learning is also referred to as remote learning or e-learning and is provided through the Internet with the help of digital tools and software like Zoom, Google Meet, etc. In this mode of education, students attend their classes, study courses, and interact with classmates and teachers online. This kind of learning is appealing to learners who want accessible programs that have a flexible curriculum and can be accessed from any geographic location at their comfort. We can further elaborate online learning into asynchronous and synchronous learning. Individuals can asynchronously learn at their own pace by accessing pre-recorded lectures, videos, and other materials whenever they find time. In contrast, in synchronous learning, designated online meeting times are followed. In both modes, there are assignments with deadlines, required reading, and tests similar to in-person class work. 

How Do Online Classes Work

Online classrooms are executed digitally, and the learning happens over various learning platforms, often called Learning Management Systems (LMS). Teaching and delivering learning resources is through the designated online platform recognized by the institution. The online learning environment differs from college to college, depending on the kind of software and tools used. However, most colleges offer their programs through an online platform that is centralized and easy to use by students across different geographic locations. Learners can access their classes through laptops, desktops, or mobile devices. 

What Can You Expect

Online classes are in a digital space, supported by an internet connection, and deliver learning in a real-time format where both teachers and students are present, and the course is taught as a live lecture. Another format is where learning materials, resources, and lessons are delivered to students as pre-recorded modules, which they can access on their own time. Several feedback systems are also in place, like query forums, emails, messaging, or other digital ways to contact the learner and instructor. Even though students can flexibly go through the modules and lectures, there will be deadlines for completing assignments, projects, and reading materials for classes.

4 Key Areas Online & In-Person Classes Differ

Online and in-person classes have four key areas – location, interaction, flexibility, and cost – that set them apart. Assessing these differences can help you choose between the two learning modes. 

1. Location

Depending on where a student lives, location can be a factor in choosing which school to attend. A student who lives in an underdeveloped area or small town will only be able to access a narrow range of educational opportunities. In such cases, they must relocate to cities where they can take up traditional programs or choose online learning to access quality education. The curriculum of a program remains the same whether accessed in-person or online. However, some degrees require on-field experience, in-person laboratory work, and so on. 

2. Interaction

The highlight of a traditional class is the face-to-face interaction students get with their teachers and peers; communication is constant as the teaching in the classroom is simultaneous. Two-way communication is also possible in online classes, but the interaction between students, peers, and teachers is determined by whether the learning is asynchronous or synchronous. Interaction can happen through informal chats, classroom interactions, group interactions, work, breakout rooms, and online forums in an online degree. Social interaction is an essential aspect of any education. Even though online learning allows students to share their opinions with others, the scope of communication beyond the screen is generally limited. The communication students have with each other on campus is immeasurable regarding the human contact one receives. Studies have shown the importance of social interaction in maintaining one’s mental health[1]; hence, one must evaluate this factor critically before deciding about online or in-person schooling. 

3. Flexibility

In a physical classroom, there is generally less choice about the times and location of classes. Students must attend classes with their peers at the specific time and place allotted. Some colleges typically allow students to select the kind of courses they want to pursue and sometimes might give choices of times to attend, but they are mostly expected to follow the college schedule. For an on-campus degree, there may also be a certain number of minimum classes one is expected to attend, failing which one might be denied the opportunity to sit for their final exams. Someone with family or career commitments may need help to keep up with such stringent schedules. Learners can expect much more flexibility in an online learning environment than in an off-campus program. Since synchronous and asynchronous learning is available, the curriculum can be completed at the learner’s convenience in a self-paced manner from any geographic location they choose. 

4. Cost

Several costs are borne by students, including tuition fees, transport, meals, general living expenses, housing, and so on, that add to their decision-making process of considering an online or offline degree. A cost comparison made by the Education Data Initiative team reports the cost of online education from a public university in the U.S. to be $37,920 vs. $37,320 paid for the same degree on-campus. In contrast, private institutions charge $58,560 on average for an online program compared to $148,800 on average for an on-campus program[2]. Even though there might be some exceptions to the tuition fee disparity, online programs are generally more affordable than their traditional counterparts. Online programs also usually offer better financial budgeting options by providing more ways of payments that can let one pay on either a per-class or installment basis. 

Pros & Cons of In-Person Classes

Pros of In-Person Classes – One of the most significant benefits of in-person classes is the hands-on learning and networking opportunities gained. While working on group discussions, projects, involvement in clubs and organizations, and classroom debates with your peers and professors, you could build connections that sometimes last a lifetime. The institution gives a schedule to follow, which can help you learn and be more organized, making education a priority. Having an organized timetable would also mean that students may be dealing with high-pressure situations while meeting deadlines and keeping up with classroom expectations; skills developed under such conditions can be applied throughout one’s lifetime. While interacting with one another, individuals develop critical interpersonal skills that benefit them both personally and professionally, building their confidence levels.

Cons of In-Person Classes – Despite the considerable advantages, traditional learning has shortcomings. Conventional classroom setups have higher costs, meals, transport, housing, materials, etc. Even though the curriculum scheduling gives it a structure, it does not provide much breathing space for students. In-person classes also make it difficult to manage other schedules like work, household chores, etc. There are rigid timelines and dire consequences for failing to meet those timelines. Students also depend on the teacher’s plan to reach out to them, which could sometimes limit their engagement with the faculty.

Pros & Cons of Online Classes

Pros of Online Classes – The flexibility of schedule offered in terms of both curriculum and location of completing the courses taken up is one of the most significant advantages of online degrees. The quality of an online degree is at par with a regular on-campus program. For those transitioning to new careers and who want to balance a degree without it affecting their personal, academic, and professional lives, an online curriculum gives them considerable control over their class schedules. Online degrees are far less expensive as students are not provided with amenities like parking, housing, on-campus resources, etc. There are also other conveniences of distance learning, such as the ease of taking down notes and materials at one’s own pace and accessing recordings of lectures as many times as required. The possibility of having esteemed guest lectures or experts from the fields conduct classes increases in an online platform. Students also have various options for interaction with their instructors through digital communication tools.

Cons of Online Classes – One of the biggest challenges of an online class is the lack of motivation that could develop when one has to take courses continuously while sitting behind a screen. Even though advanced technology has made online virtual classrooms appealing, the lack of human touch might lead to a sense of social isolation in students. Since the curriculum is primarily self-paced, one would need immense self-discipline to complete courses and assignments on time; the accountability enforced by the traditional classroom setting is missing here. Sometimes, teachers extend lessons and add numerous reference materials, as they cannot gauge students’ understanding of a particular topic; this could lead to burnout due to the additional hours students need to put towards their degree. Instructors may also find it difficult to track students’ honest efforts as they need to review their work in person, increasing the chances of plagiarism, cheating, and other malpractices.  Such learning also limits the student’s scope of interpersonal communication, especially in an asynchronous online course. A critical disadvantage is the potential health hazards, including irritable eyes, strain injuries, stiffness in joints, and other health complications caused due to the extensive hours of the student being glued to their screen.

Online vs. In-Person Classes: Which Is Better & How Do You Choose?

With technological advancements today, students have more than one way to obtain their degrees. Therefore, they should take the opportunity to evaluate if traditional or online learning is conducive to their education. Let us understand these opportunities through the example of John, who wonders if he should opt for an online master’s. He is a working professional with limited opportunities to travel on-campus for classes. He wants to take up an affordable program that will allow him to advance his courses at his own pace, as he can organize his schedule around his other commitments and complete the curriculum requirements simultaneously. An online degree will give John a cost-effective solution, and the flexibility of an online class will allow him to take courses at the speed he wants to progress. On the other hand, let us say John wants a structured curriculum to build face-to-face connections with people and avail of student resources on campus; then, a traditional degree will suit him more.

To summarize, choosing between learning modes can be critical for a student’s personal and professional growth. It primarily comes down to curriculum flexibility, financial options, time at hand, and lifestyle. 

FAQs About Online vs. In-Person Classes

Can you use scholarships and financial aid for online classes?

A student can apply for many scholarships and financial aid, even for online classes. Distance learners can access the same need-based financial aid, grants, and scholarships as traditional degree students; some are specifically designed for online students. Several institutions also provide free master’s programs with little to no cost to the student. 

Can you transfer from an online school to attend in person?

Where can you find accredited online programs?

Do employers hire those who have an online degree?

What are the success rates for online vs. in-person classes?

Does a student learn more on-campus or online?

Do you need a GRE or GMAT to enroll in an online program?

Related Content

As you decide which type of learning is best for you – whether that’s in-person or online, here are a few related articles to help you in your educational journey.