What are the Differences Between Online Colleges and Traditional CollegesWith the increasing popularity of online education, prospective college students often find themselves wondering about the differences between online colleges and traditional colleges.  In many ways, they are very similar, but of course there are also marked differences. Read on to discover the biggest ways in which online learning differs from traditional classroom instruction.

Physical Setting-The Primary Difference

Although there are a plethora of differences between online colleges and traditional colleges, the primary difference is the setting in which the learning process transpires. With traditional colleges, students enter a physical classroom in order to learn material from an instructor. On the other hand, individuals who take part in a program through an online college learn by accessing the material through an internet website. Because enrolling in an online college affords individuals the opportunity to study from the comfort and privacy of their home, many people prefer this learning format.

Class Scheduling

Another difference between online and traditional colleges is that attending an online college gives students scheduling flexibility because the student does not have to be in a physical classroom during predetermined periods of time. Rather, the student can study and take quizzes or exams whenever it is convenient. This type of scheduling flexibility makes life convenient for many students and is oftentimes particularly convenient for individuals who hold full-time jobs or have familial responsibilities.

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In addition to affording students different scheduling options, online and traditional colleges differ in terms of the interaction that participants have with their peers. In short, students who attend online and offline universities both have the opportunity to interact with other students. However, the type of social interaction that transpires in the online setting is substantively different than what goes on in physical classrooms. Specifically, online students interact with one another via internet message boards, chat rooms, and e-mail. On the other hand, social interaction in the traditional college setting can transpire at the school cafeteria or in the hallways of a building. Individuals who prefer the latter type of social interaction should note that many online colleges feature physical learning institutions, meaning that students who opt to earn a degree via distance learning can still participate in traditional forms of socialization.


Yet another difference between traditional and online colleges is the type of resources that each format offers. With a traditional learning institution, you will likely have access to resources such as dorms, dining halls, libraries, and gyms. However, many online colleges do not offer these resources. Instead, they tend to feature resources such as virtual libraries as well as technological tools that enable you to communicate with faculty members.

An Important Consideration

If you are trying to determine whether to attend an online or traditional college, you should think about how an online degree is perceived in the eyes of prospective employers in addition to considering the differences between distance learning and traditional forms of education. In an important infographic detailing how employers view online degrees, studies indicated that hiring executives considered three factors when determining if an online degree was substantive: accreditation, a physical campus, and an established brand. Thus if you are trying to select an ideal online college for yourself, consider choosing a learning institution that possesses the aforementioned attributes.


If you are trying to determine whether to attend a traditional or online college, you should note that there are salient differences between the two institutions. Now that you have an answer to the question “What is the difference between an online and traditional college?,” you can make an informed decision regarding which type of learning format would be most appropriate and advantageous for you.

See also: Top 25 Most Affordable Online Business Graduate Degrees

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