What Are the Differences Between In-Class and Online College Courses?

Key differences between in-class and online college courses make choosing a method of curriculum delivery important when deciding on a college. Some common differences between the two types of classes include classroom experience, availability and cost.

Differences in Class Experience Between In-class and Online College Courses

Learning during an online college course can begin at any time that fits in a student's schedule, while students attending in-class lectures or labs must adjust other activities in order to attend scheduled classes, labs and lectures. During an in-class learning session, a student may spend time arranging books and materials, responding to attendance checking or waiting for a lecture to begin. In-class learning may take advantage of more learning modes, such as visual, tactile and auditory, while online learning is predominantly visual and auditory.

Important Information About Online College Courses

Degree Levels Diploma, certificate, undergraduate, post-grad and graduate
Degree Fields of Study Varies by school; may include majors in the arts, humanities, sciences and business
Possible Careers Online college degrees may lead to work in field such as business, education, and healthcare
Prerequisites Similar to traditional schools; may require high school diploma, GED or some work experience for certain programs

Interaction and Participation

For some students, the idea of being called on during a class is an intimidating thought. Online college courses remove the pressure of required oral responses during class time, and in many cases, allow you to learn the material at your own pace, while interacting with students and professors using online forums and instant messaging. On the other hand, in-class students have the advantage of interactive learning with fellow class members and professors in a real-time setting.

Class and Subject Availability

Another key difference between online and in-class college courses is the number of subject options available online. In-class students are limited to the subjects and instructors available on campus. While this is also true of online courses, some colleges may offer prerecorded lectures, which opens up course availability. While college and program accreditation are important for both online and on-campus courses, it is very important for students to ensure that online classes at an online institute or college is accredited or the credits may not be accepted toward a degree at a traditional institution. Additionally, subjects that require primarily hands-on work are not generally available online.


Online classes can be produced using cutting-edge technology and still cost less than face-to-face classes. The tuition and fees that reflect laboratory, office, classroom and dormitory expenses on a traditional campus may cause the coursework delivered in-class to be more expensive than the same subject materials presented online.

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