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Online Classes vs Traditional Classes

With the development of technology, universities have adapted to fit the digital world. Now, they offer courses, certificates, and degrees online. Since its inception, the number of students choosing distance learning programs has grown every year, proving that it’s a great alternative to face-to-face classes—but is online education the best path for you?

If you’re looking to further your education, you’re probably wondering about the advantages and disadvantages of online college vs traditional college, and how online classes vs traditional classes match up in terms of academic experience and financial expenses. 

This guide will highlight the differences between online learning and traditional education, in-person education, to help you decide which is right for you.

To learn more about our online programs at Alliant International University, click here

The Online College vs Traditional College Experience

The percentage of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate distance learning programs steadily increase every year. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates that nearly 35% of students take some or all of their courses online.

While millions of people find distance learning to be a good fit for them, choosing that route is based on where you are in life and what experience you want to get out of your education. 

The pros and cons of online college vs traditional college aren’t cut and dry—you have to look at the deciding factors in terms of what’s best for you, because all roads lead to the same place. At the end of the day, you’ll have a certificate or degree, whether or not you were physically present on a campus. Among the major differences are:

  • Cost
  • Schedule flexibility
  • Self-discipline and motivation
  • Social interaction
  • Course variety 


Getting a college education is more expensive than ever, and the cost of education is usually one of the biggest concerns for prospective students. Online education is a cheaper alternative for two reasons: both you and the university have less expenses.

Holding Classes Online is Cheaper

Online programs typically have fewer expenses because they have less property to manage, and less space to maintain means less staff and personnel to pay. The school also doesn’t need to put any money toward expanding to accommodate an influx of students, avoiding costs of renovations, new lecture halls, and student housing.

You Don’t Have Campus-Related Costs

You don’t have to spend your money on living expenses associated with being on-campus, such as the following:

  • Gas and parking if you live off-campus
  • Living in on-campus or university-owned housing, which is often expensive, and sometimes required for students
  • Having to opt-in to a meal plan because you live in housing offered by the university
  • School fees for classroom supplies, activities, bus passes, recreational center and sports facilities, student healthcare, property maintenance, etc.
  • Paying for materials like textbooks or course readers

However, online colleges often don’t have the same scholarship and grant opportunities that a larger traditional university will have for its students, in part because of the lack of fees. Depending on what your academic goals are, you’ll want to pick out online and in-person programs and compare their financial aid options to make sure it’s within your price range.

Schedule Flexibility

With modern life feeling busier than ever before, fitting higher education into your life can be difficult, especially when you’re trying to make enough money to pay for your schooling. More than 70% of university students work while pursuing their degree, according to a study by Georgetown University’s Center of Education and the Workforce. Balancing work, school, and other aspects of your personal life is hard to do without getting stressed.

Here are some of the ways online school helps with schedule flexibility:

  • Create your own schedule – Typically, deadlines are set far in advance, allowing for you to work at your own pace up until then.
  • The world is your classroom – Since your classroom travels with you, you can do your lessons and coursework on-the-go.
  • Limited distractions – You’ll be able to create your own learning environment where you can focus on school without other people around, helping your productivity and easing any anxiety you may have about being in a packed classroom.

If you think you’d be less focused outside of a traditional classroom, in-person schooling may be a better option for you. However, it’s important that you have a plan to set up your work schedule and any other duties you may have in a way that doesn’t interrupt your classes, and vice versa. A traditional learning environment is a great choice for people who don’t have time constraints and can just focus on school.

Self-Discipline and Motivation

Knowing the setting that’s best for your focus and productivity is an important aspect of choosing online classes vs traditional classes. Everybody is different—some people feel energized by sharing a space with others who are learning the same material, and some people find that incredibly distracting.

Online learning is a good fit for you if you can relate to the following:

  • You feel anxious by a highly structured environment
  • You are self-disciplined
  • You find it easy to motivate yourself to get stuff done
  • You’re organized and can stick to a schedule you made for yourself
  • Having people around while you’re trying to do schoolwork is frustrating, distracting, or makes you feel stressed

A traditional learning environment is a good fit for you if you can better relate to these statements:

  • You thrive in structured settings and like having a schedule made for you
  • You like having reminders of deadlines
  • You prefer smaller, more frequent deadlines as opposed to having big assignments due less often
  • Working alone feels harder than working with others
  • Face-to-face interactions makes learning easier for you
  • You aren’t easily distracted by what’s happening around you and don’t find crowded settings or public speaking intimidating

All forms of schooling require discipline and motivation, but having increased flexibility in your schedule means you have to hold yourself accountable—you are responsible for creating and maintaining your own structured learning environment. That can be hard, especially for people who are younger, so be honest with yourself about whether or not you’ll be able to succeed if you’re the only person keeping you on task.

Whether you choose in-person or online classes, all of our programs provide superior education for your future career ahead. Click here to learn more about the different areas of study we offer at Alliant International University. 

Social Interaction

Naturally, being in a traditional school setting means you have more opportunities for social interaction. You can still find ways to connect with other students in your online classes, but it’s much more difficult than leaning over to the person in the desk next to you. A lot of online college interactions happen in the form of online discussion posts, which creates a barrier from getting to know your classmates.

Sometimes, courses are pre-recorded lectures rather than live videos, which also makes it harder to ask your professor questions. On the plus side, these pre-recorded lectures can sometimes be from the in-person equivalent to your online class, meaning you’ll hear students asking the professor questions.

Course Variety

Due to flexible scheduling and cheaper classes, it’s easier for online students to take a wider variety of courses. Logistically, every class offered by a university can’t be held in-person every term. Even when classes are offered, scheduling conflicts between classes can get in the way of you taking a course you’re interested in, especially because required courses take precedence. 

Job markets and economic security aside, at its core, the whole purpose of going to school is to learn about things you’re interested in. Both online and in-person classes support your professional goals, but online classes also help you fulfill your personal goals.

Online Learning Satisfaction Rates

Distance learning sounds pretty great, but how do people who have been through the experience feel? In a survey by Best Colleges, 95% of students who went to school online said they would recommend online education to others, and 94% of them said their education has, or will have, a positive return on investment.

Even students who have taken online and in-person classes think highly of their online experience—in fact, 85% of people prefered it, according to a survey from Campus Technology. This idea of hybrid learning, taking both online and face-to-face classes, is becoming an increasingly popular option, as a way to get the best of both worlds.

Online Degrees from Alliant International University

If you’re interested in online education, whether it’s a fully online or hybrid degree program, Alliant International University has every option you could want. From certificate and credential programs to master’s and doctoral degrees, and opportunities for internships and community service projects, you’ll have the flexibility of working on your own time while also getting real-world experience.

As an accredited university by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, Alliant not only has an impressive reputation, but prepares you for any certification exams you may be required to take in your field. 

Contact Alliant today to find out how to take the first step towards higher education.



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