How Online Classes Compare to Physical Class: Facts & Truths

Last Updated on July 28, 2021 by David Shaw

Online Classes vs. In-Person Class

Online classes are only becoming more common and an integral part of remote learning owing to the ongoing pandemic. If you’re a future college student wondering if you should take online classes, you might have certain questions in mind about college classes like how does it compare to in-person classes and other logistics matters.

Commonly, students might as are online classes harder or easier than physical classes?

Generally, online courses are often harder compared to traditional in-person courses due to the requirement of greater self-discipline and management of our time than offline courses. Additionally, certain technical constraints can make communication among professors and students inconvenient.

There is quite a learning curve when it comes to adapting to online classes with some physical and mental adjustments. Although online classes are more convenient to attend compared to in-person classes, there can still be certain challenges students and teachers might face during online classes. In this article, here are some expectations and information you can learn about online classes.

Online Classes Aren’t Always Easier Than Physical Classes

Describing the difficulty of online classes can be a very broad term, so let’s look at what makes online classes challenging:

Technical difficulties – Technical difficulties are the biggest culprit of delays and hiccups of online classes. Online classes are simply just prone to all sorts of general technical difficulties as long as we rely on the use of technology. Especially on important occasions, technical difficulties will cause delay or cancellation of certain plans which might take a toll on students due to class schedule amendments. In certain cases, teachers are just not prepared or equipped with the right knowledge and tools to conduct classes online, which greatly disrupts the progress of the class if they face a technical issue.

Proctoring– Physical proctoring by professors is already stressful enough, but online proctoring measures always bring more of an extra burden rather than convenience. There just isn’t an online proctoring tool good enough to do the job. Certain proctoring tools that track head movement or the activity of our surroundings just isn’t a good measure to keep students from cheating, but rather causing more unnecessary anxiety for students. And if proctoring tools mistakenly flags students for suspicious behavior, students will have to innocently face unnecessary consequences which can be a great nuisance.

Student feedback is vague – You will encounter many professors who truly care about the online learning experience of students, but also come across a few that are not. Student feedback is mostly ineffective and sometimes hard to fulfill due to technical/online limitations. While some feedback might be thoughtful, it might hinder the process of the delivery of lectures.

Study groups are hard to find – If you’re one of the students who still had to take online classes during the pandemic, you will know that study groups are truly hard to find. Group assignments are truly devastating as team members will also find ‘reasons’ to ghost other team members since they won’t be meeting physically regardless. People were either working together with only their friends or mostly solo. Your best shot is simply to find them on Discord, other social platforms usually lead to poor team collaborating spirit.

Is Online Learning Effective Compared to In-Person Classes?

From my personal experience, collective testimonial of my friends and most college communities, it is safe to say that online learning is very effective for many students, and some would even say it is far more effective than physical classes.

With recorded lectures that allow playbacks, it is a game-changer for learning especially when a professor does a good job at delivering lectures.

Another thing professors can do while using tablets like iPad to conduct online classes is the ability to create better and more interactive notes by incorporating many features like the use of different colors, images, videos, or that infographic that just makes the learning experience better in the form of notes. Some would even upload their digital notes, allowing students to make a copy, customize, and make themselves more personalized notes. Few of my professors even went the extra mile to upload supplemental lectures to cover extra topics or solutions to certain questions, which I find very helpful while taking the course.

All these factors and features provided by online learning and technology made learning very effective as lectures materials can be more in-depth, intuitive with all of them recorded to be accessible.

Strength and Weaknesses of Online Learning

Pros Cons
Self-paced learningRequires more time spent on classes
Recorded lecturesSame costs of physical classes
Attendance arent mostly mandatoryProlonged screen time use
More privacy and anonymity Less social interaction
The flexibility of lecture schedulesLess practical hands-on experience
Practice time management skillsEasily distracted
Cheap textbooks alternative

Online physical classes is not ready to replace traditional physical classes

After the abrupt switch to fully online classes globally that completely put fully online learning on trial mode, the pandemic has given the academic industry a clear answer. We might think that more classes will remain fully online post-pandemic but that might not be the case.

However, the data from The Digital Learning Pulse survey published by Bay View Analytics in partnership with Cengage that includes responses from teachers and students suggest that there are high hopes for more hybrid classes in the future. Of all students who participated in the survey, 68% of students specify they would be interested in taking courses offering a combination of in-person and online classes.

A hybrid class is a course that combines both traditional physical and online learning that has proven to be a favorable preference among students. Physical class sessions will be used to discuss practical problems, discuss solutions, or used similar to office hours whereas the online session of hybrid classes will deal with the introduction, the informational emphasis of class materials, as they can be reviewed again through recorded lectures.

Joel Barker, an Assistant Accounting Professor at City University of New York, said in his Education Research on Benefits Of Hybrid Classes in Community Colleges that hybrid classes allow flexibility to students with multiple responsibilities to maximize their time

“This forum allows some flexibility to students with multiple responsibilities to maximize their time,” he said.

Even with the convenience brought by the internet today, some would say physical classes will be replaced by online classes in the future, but we disagree. Let’s also not forget professors are also mentally burnt out from teaching online classes all the time in their homes. Many lecturers, including some of mine, admitted they’re stressed out as they cant completely engage with the class without receiving feedback and tangible intuition of how their classes are doing while conducting online classes.

Unless we see compelling improvements and reforms made by the educational systems, traditional classes will remain the primary method of delivering knowledge to people in schools. Until then, we’re not ready to adapt to fully online classes because the education infrastructure and system are not equipped with the expertise and resources to do so.

What Can Improve The College Experience of Online Learning?

1. Equipping lecturers with online teaching gadgets

if classes are conducted fully online, universities must provide their faculty with appropriate technological gadgets to facilitate the delivery of lectures. For example, universities need to provide lectures free resources like laptops, tablets, professional software, and other peripheral devices (microphone, webcam, etc). Considering the expenses the university can save from conducting classes online, investing an appropriate sum of money for such measures is definitely not too much to ask for.

2. Reliable Proctoring Tool

A good proctoring tool is crucial to ensure and uphold the university’s academic integrity and distribution of grades. Up until now, is it astounding that not enough organizations or university bodies are contributing to creating a reliable proctoring tool. Other than proctoring exams, proctoring tools should also serve as a communication tool where students and teachers receive instant acknowledgment for assistance. Emailing is a great tool for communication, but it isn’t effective during situations where students need instant feedback during certain occasions where important lecture sessions are being conducted.

3. Implementation of More Forum Learning Management System (LMS)

Your university might be using Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard, or other LMS, but they are just not a great tool for forum-based discussion. Universities need to implement more use of online educational tools like Piazza, Slack, and several other useful platforms that provide a good interface for both students and teachers. These forum-based LMS are designed with features to keep track of the class, or activity of individual students’ participation and activity in class to provide professors meaningful insights of how the class is doing.

4. Financial Support For Technology And Resources For Students

By taking into consideration of lower-class families or first-generation college students that have yet achieved financial stability, universities should make sure these students can be supplied the tools for allowance or free resources for textbooks or laptops. By doing this, universities potentially lift the burden of students or their families suffering financial insecurity from getting the proper education for their future.

5. Create Accessible Content

In order to ensure students a seamless experience in the delivery of online classes, professors have to provide accessible content electronically. Be it the professor’s handwritten class notes, answer solutions, or presentation slides, providing accessible content means ensuring that content is easily and readily accessible, disabled-friendly, and compatible across all kinds of technological devices or file reading software.

This includes ensuring the formatting of lecture materials in electronic files are compatible with assistive technologies, made with valid hyperlinks, and provide sources of videos with closed captions to reduce the barrier of comprehension within lecture materials.

With that said, having both teachers and students informed and educated on the technological know-how on how to deliver most files in PDF forms is absolutely crucial today.

Related Questions

Are online college classes cheaper than in-person classes? College classes generally cost the same compared to in-person classes per unit. Unless you take a completely online Degree curriculum offered by a university, then you can expect the cost to be significantly cheaper than taking traditional in-person classes.

Are online classes free? There are free online classes by many top universities that let you indulge in the full experience of their expertise of world-class lecture and knowledge. Check out this website to find out more.

Are online classes open book during exams? Expect most and more online classes to be open-book as professors can’t possibly prevent student’s using the textbooks in online classes. Professors usually design unique questions that you won’t be able to find in textbooks or questions banks to prevent students from cheating. Some lecturers still conduct closed book exams and will proctor students during online exams, although most professors don’t encourage students to use the textbook during exams as it could hinder their performance and time on the exam.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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