Key Differences Between Online and Traditional Learning

By Ian Acosta on June 13, 2017

Online courses are becoming more and more common these days in college curriculums. Students are finding it increasingly more convenient to take online classes when available as opposed to traditional classroom lectures and discussions.

In this post, I’ll try and lay out a few of the common differences I’ve come across when taking online classes and how they compare to regular classes and then you can decide for yourself which one will potentially fit your style better. Now, not all classes have an online style equivalent and some you will have to take in a traditional sense anyway, but for those where a choice is offered, you will be completely sure which route you should go.

Image via Iria Flavia Spanish Courses from

Classroom setting

In a traditional course, you attend the lecture, probably go to a discussion section to recap lecture and then ALSO attend a quiz class to have occasional examinations for what you have learned (or forgotten) sitting through an hour-plus long lecture. So, in this sense, the setting for a traditional class is very structured and firm.

With an online course, however, your classroom is wherever you can connect to the internet. Whether that is your bedroom, the library, or a coffee shop, an online classroom goes where you go. Therefore, it is intended to fit more to your schedule and whenever you choose to actually learn and complete the course.

You may have to meet at a predetermined time to take an exam, but the onus is on you to study the material on your own time. If you seem to be one of those students who has a million things on their schedule at any given time and needs flexibility, online courses would be perfect for you.



As it says in the name, online classes can only be taken online. If you (somehow) do not have access to a computer, seem to always have a terrible internet connection wherever you are, or just plain do not like dealing with technology, just stick with going to lecture in your favorite lecture hall.

Additionally, when you sign up for an online class, you should make sure that you are up to date and have all of the technical requirements for your online course. Some online classes require certain software in order to do tasks associated with assignments and the like, or just to access the class in general. For example, I took a couple online statistics classes recently and they each required different coding software to use. If in a STEM major, I am sure you understand what I’m talking about.

Some online classes are completely taught with coding software, therefore making it a necessity to have the proper software to participate. A friend of mine in a journalism media class that was completely online had to get most of the Adobe programs. In addition to writing pieces, she had to create graphs, images, slideshows, animations, and other media pieces as assignments for the class.

Technology usage in classes is rapidly growing and I am sure most of you experience this today. However, many I know have benefitted from having to use more and more programs as it exposes them to a wide variety of strategies and techniques to use in their other classes and future careers.

Discussion sections

Traditional classes usually have a lecture and discussion section to accompany what you learned in lecture. For online classes, that is typically not the case as the lecture is accessed by everyone at a different time. Therefore, the professor typically assigns discussion posts as a way to augment the traditional discussion section.

Therefore, you need to be able to write a solid discussion post. Why is it so important? It forces students to participate no matter what, unlike in a traditional lecture where not everyone has to contribute. Further, it allows for better interaction between students and professor whether the students want feedback or not. It forces learning and communication which could help students too nervous or intimidated to seek it out otherwise. While it may seem tedious to some, this is the online equivalent of getting everyone to contribute something to the class.


Feedback is typically slower in online classes than in traditional ones. When it comes to traditional classes, there are typically a few TAs to help guide the discussion and quiz sections of the course as opposed to just the instructor and maybe one TA. If you are taking an inaugural online section of a course, there could be some growing pains as well as a delay of feedback due to the instructor working out the kinks on their end as well. This, therefore, causes a delay in feedback on assignments, discussion posts, quizzes, and study questions.

If you prefer not to deal with that, go the traditional route.

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