Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes: What is the Difference?

By: John Conway - Full-Time Faculty, General Education

June 26, 2017

Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes
Although the idea of distance education—when teachers and students exchanged letters—is not new, the Internet and recent developments in technology have made online education prevalent and useful for a wide variety of students.  There is no “right or wrong” choice, but the two forms do have differences: 1) technology requirements, 2) synchronous vs. asynchronous learning, 3) the discussion thread, and 4) access.

One of the most important differences is that online classes require a certain amount of computer technology and savvy.  A student needs reliable and fairly quick access to the Internet (even if it is from the library) since some courses have a video or multi-media component.  Technology is being used in traditional classrooms as well, but it is not considered the primary medium of communication between student and teacher. 

The second important difference is that an online class is considered to be “asynchronous” and a traditional class is “synchronous.”  Online classes don’t require the student to interact with the teacher at the same place at the same time.  A teacher is always available via phone, email, text or Skype, but the requirements of the course don’t entail a “face-to-face” meeting.  A traditional class does require students and teachers to meet at the same place at the same time.

The third difference between online and traditional classes is how discussion is handled. The online class depends upon the discussion thread.  A discussion thread is a part of the online class where a question is posed by the teacher and where the students respond in written form in the same virtual area.  Answers are posted and then students and the teacher have an opportunity to respond.  Communication is dependent upon writing, versus a traditional class where verbal articulation is more important.

Perhaps the most important difference is that an online class offers availability to students regardless of their ability to travel to a physical campus.  This gives a wide variety of students access to college courses versus a traditional class which requires presence in class to enroll. Understanding these differences can help a student make the right choice!

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By: John Conway - Full-Time Faculty, General Education

June 26, 2017