Online Courses Versus In-Classroom Courses


Online learning is a great way to have a more flexible class schedule, which can give you the time you need to work on or off-campus, meet your friends, go to office hours, complete assignments as well as listen and watch lectures in your own time.

There are a burgeoning number of online courses being offered in post-secondary institutions that are only making it easier for those who may require a certain amount of flexibility.

From my own experience, I have taken classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels both in-person and online. There weren’t as many online classes offered at the undergraduate level when I was a student fresh out of high school. Online learning was still fairly new. But by the time I got to starting my master’s degree, I realized there were many schools that offered fully online degrees and not just individual courses.

Which format is better?

It’s a question that is being debated. Both come with certain pros and cons. I’ll speak from personal experience.

An online course, while it offers flexibility, does not allow for much face-to-face and in-person communication. In that regard, some connection is lost. You can attend online office hours, engage others through participation in online discussion boards set up by the university, and post regularly on those forums to trigger debate and conversation. However, nothing quite replaces, in my own opinion, the reality of speaking to somebody in person.

But do you really gain much more from speaking to somebody in person rather than online? I would say, “It depends,” and of course that’s a frustrating answer! “It depends” on what your personality is, for example. The online option definitely allows for students who are more shy to take part and engage and score higher participation marks than they would have if they had been taking part in an intimate in-person seminar.

On the other hand, if you aren’t speaking to somebody in person, you do lose cues that come from body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and various other subtle communication vehicles that we’re probably not even consciously aware of when we speak with someone.

When I was a master’s student in creative writing, I took a few workshops online. There were windows of time where we were required to log on to the portal to post our thoughts, feedback, and constructive criticism, and because not everyone would log on at the same time, you sometimes had to wait hours before someone responded to your post, or wade through many, many posts that others had made before you could start to respond. The online discussions, when intense and engaging, would take hours, rather than the typical two to three hours you would normally have spent in lecture and seminar and perhaps tutorial each week for a given course.

We all know there are delays when it comes to online communication (that isn’t exactly instant messaging) and this is certainly a classic example of that.

When I took the creative writing workshops in-person, the conversation flowed easier, and I was able to follow up on things I didn’t understand immediately rather than posting a question and waiting for the answer to appear online on the forum, which it sometimes did (only hours and hours later).

Some things to consider if online classes work better for you is: your personality, your level of interest in the course material, how much you participate in person in regular in-person courses, whether you prefer flexibility, creating your own schedule (to a certain extent) and what other commitments you have going on.

Here are some additional points for deciding whether to take an online course rather than an in-person version of that course:

1. Do you like being online and reading notes as well as watching lectures from your computer? Or will that feel like a chore?
2. Are you the kind of person who will take responsibility to watch the lectures on your own time? Will you hold yourself accountable to participating in the online discussions?
3. Are you interested in learning in different ways and through different channels? Are you interested in innovative ways of learning rather than traditional ways?

In conclusion, whether online courses are better is a debate that comes down to personal preference and your learning style. Take some time getting to know what that is, test out a few different types of online courses and make a well-informed decision based on your own personal experiences.