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Online Classes vs. Traditional Classes: Advantages & Challenges

Online classes are growing more popular every year. 

In fact, according to labor market analytics firm EMSI, in 2019, 26% of all college degrees were earned completely online. From 2012 to 2019, EMSI also recorded online programs growing by 56%, while their traditional counterparts saw a decrease in degree completions by 3.3%.

This surging growth can be partly attributed to the high quality of online classes offered by regionally-accredited colleges and universities. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t distinct advantages and challenges between online and traditional learning experiences.

Are you thinking about going online but feel unsure about committing? We’ll help you weigh the pros and cons of online classes vs. traditional classes and help you choose the best learning experience for your needs.

Pros: 8 Ways Online Classes Can Be Better Than Traditional Classes

Online classes have come a long way. With new technology, instructional design experts and dedicated online student support services, now is a better time than ever to take online classes.

Here are some of the pros of taking online classes that you won’t get from a traditional program:

  • More Accessible for Working Adults: The flexible nature of online learning is better suited to people who need to work full time or part time. If physical attendance is required (most often it's not), they typically only meet once per week.
  • “Attend” Class Anywhere: Say goodbye to commutes to campus. Want to attend class in a coffee shop, at a park, or on your couch? Choose a location with a WiFi connection, log in, and learn in an environment that’s suited for you. 
  • Flexible Course Scheduling: Most online classes don’t adhere to a traditional academic calendar. That means you don’t have to wait until the start of a semester to take a class. Rolling start dates and variable class lengths make it easier to work school into your busy schedule.
  • Complete Your Degree at Your Own Pace: With online classes you can take one class at a time, double up on classes or even space out your classes across the year. If you have a busy time of the year at work or at home, classes usually start every 6 weeks, so you can speed up or slow down based on your needs.
  • Accelerate Your Degree Completion: Some online degrees can be completed more quickly than traditional degrees. Online classes occur more regularly, so there is the opportunity to take more classes and complete more credits each year. This is most common with master’s degrees, some of which can be completed in as few as 12 months.
  • Apply Content Immediately to Your Job: When you take online classes, you don’t have to wait to see the results. You can apply the concepts you learn to your everyday job, putting theory into practice. Some online students get promotion opportunities before they finish their degree because of the valuable knowledge and skills they gain along the way.
  • Possibly Lower the Cost of Your Education: While not all online classes are more affordable than traditional classes, the cost per credit hour is often lower for online classes. The best online colleges will also help you maximize transfer credit, so your previous education and experiences can count toward your degree, which also reduces costs.
  • Benefit From 360-Degree Learning: Online classes are typically taught by instructors with deep professional experience. Course content is also amplified by the real-world professional experiences of your peers. While traditional classes may be skewed toward a younger demographic and a more theory-driven approach, online classes provide real-world skills from day one.

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Cons: 5 Ways Online Classes Can Be Challenging

If you’ve never taken an online class before, it can take time to adjust to this new virtual format. But if you’re prepared and plan ahead, the change can be more than worth it.

Some of the most common challenges online student face include:

  • Less Face-to-Face Interaction: At least in the traditional sense. Online classes lack the spontaneous hallway discussions or office hour pop-ins of traditional classes. But that doesn’t mean there’s no facetime. The best online classes will use video chat, livestream classes and incorporate group projects so you feel connected to your instructors and peers.
  • Networking and Internships: Growing your professional network and getting real-world experience are two sought-after benefits that are aligned with traditional classes. When taking online classes, you may have similar opportunities, but you will need to go above and beyond the virtual classroom to realize their full potential. Look for online colleges that incorporate mentorship opportunities, engage with professional organizations and can connect you with a strong alumni and employer network.
  • Physical Resources: If you attend online classes, you won’t spend time lounging in the student union or studying in a quiet corner in the library. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t have access to similar resources. They will just look a little different. The best online classes will provide 24/7 access to library resources, tutoring services or even virtual “study rooms,” that students can rent to collaborate. 
  • Self-Motivation and Discipline: Meeting regularly multiple times a week makes it easier to pace yourself. When learning online, there may be less checkpoints and deadlines may be more spread out. If you’re very deadline driven, set personal deadlines for accomplishing your work so that you pace yourself throughout the week. A more defined schedule can help you stay motivated so procrastination doesn't get the best of you. 
  • Staying Focused: It’s fairly easy to focus in a dedicated classroom surrounded by peers and face-to-face with your instructor. It can be easy to get distracted in a remote learning environment if other priorities are competing for your attention. The best way to overcome this challenge is to create a dedicated space for online learning to remove unwanted distractions. 

All online classes are not created equal. The learning environment in online classes can vary widely based on the online college you choose. If you find the right online classes, they will minimize these challenges and provide an experience on par with—or better than—traditional in-person classes. 

Find the Right Online Classes to Maximize the Advantages of Online Education

For working professionals who understand the advantages of online classes, the choice is clear. Flexible scheduling, 360-degree learning and job-ready skills make online classes a great choice to advance your career. 

Franklin University designs online classes for busy working adults. We pair instructional design expertise with subject matter expertise to develop online classes and curriculum that’s engaging, relevant and supportive. We provide every resource you would find in a traditional classroom, but in a way that allows you to earn your degree on your time and your schedule.

Learn more about the Franklin online learning experience to see how we can support your career growth. 

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