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Is online classes harder than campus classes?

Do online classes require students to have a very different set of skills than the campus classes? Which is harder and why? Is it hard to learn online since you don’t have the chance to ask questions face-to-face? Or does the fact that you get to skip the commute and parking make online classes a huge time-saver? These are all questions many people have as they start navigating the various online courses for college.

Most people have attended classroom classes in school and also perhaps in a prior college, so campus classes certainly are a more familiar option to many students. Some college classes tend to have a larger number of students in each class than we’re accustomed to in school, especially in many of the larger universities. Also, online classes do not provide a direct two-way conversation. A two-way live conversation is often not even required for effective learning. Students can instead provide feedback or ask questions in online chat or email after they have completed the chapter or online exercise. So it all depends on the student’s preference, but in general, online classes have less distractions and provide more ways to use multiple secondary resources for study while attending the online course/ lecture.

History and Characteristics

Since time immemorial, the younger generation has been learning from the learned ones both at home and in the place of study. In ancient India, it was widely known as the Guru-shishya-parampara, which means the lineage or tradition of a succession of teachers and disciples. This is the way in which civilizations have been passing on their knowledge to the future generations.

Men have always been learning from each other about different trades and skills. In the case of dedicated/ focused learning, it is expected that the teacher has the know-how which they are willing to share with the student who does not yet have that knowledge. Due to this long history, most of us are generally accepting of a classroom-based learning.

For the last thousands of years, man has also been recording knowledge and learning. First it started with cave drawings and then writing on leaves or papyrus using ink or dyes. This moved further into printed matter and we are all accustomed to reading and learning from textbooks.

With the advent of YouTube and other video platforms, learning from video classrooms online has also become quite popular. So most of the features of the campus classroom have been replaced with something equivalent or better in the online classes.

Reduction in Cost

Once the course videos are recorded, they can be delivered over and over to newer audiences. The same is true for written online content. This especially makes the cost of online delivery much lesser than a live set of classroom courses. Though running an online website also incurs some costs with the web hosting and additional software, this is hugely time-saving for the tutor and this dramatically reduces the overall cost of online courses.

So online courses are definitely easier for a college or course-provider to deliver in the long-run. However, there might an initial learning curve for the course-provider to learn how to record good-quality videos online and to understand all the intricacies of YouTube and other video/learning platforms.

As for students, they get to save time and money in commute which they can completely avoid by taking their classes online. Also, there are many free and low-cost courses online which makes it a lot more affordable for students to take up a lot of their courses online. Colleges also typically pass on some of their cost-savings from the online courses onto the students thereby making them much cheaper than classroom courses.

Pull/ Push Delivery

When students sign up for college classroom courses, they are expected to show up in-person to their classes. Some classes mark student attendance whereas others don’t but since classroom courses are important for passing grades and usually have a per-credit-hour fee, most students attend their classroom courses diligently.

With the online courses as well, most online learning platforms mark student progress and completion of the course modules. But online courses usually provide flexibility of time as students can take them at any time of the day or night or on holidays. Students can even have short study sessions on their smartphones in between their other busy activities. So online learning definitely provides more flexibility of time.

This added flexibility though requires students to be more motivated and responsible with their online studies, since there won’t be constant external pressure for completing the online course modules as is generally found in the classroom courses.

Interactive Experience

In addition to video courses and written courses, there are a few other ways online content encourages us to learn and study. Asking and answering questions in a group chat or forum inspires everyone to learn more. Survey quizzes, short tests before completing each module also comes in very handy for the teachers. The learning system should be such that new modules get activated only after a passing score is obtained in the previous modules. Then after the test is completed, there could a short review of any of the questions the student did not answer correctly.

This is one way to ensure that everyone is given personalized attention by the online platform and encouraged to complete each learning module satisfactorily before proceeding to the next one. This is also something which is very hard to achieve in a campus classroom environment.

Most online learning platforms nowadays incorporate many of these techniques for personalized learning and progress. Khan Academy is another great example of an online platform that incorporates many cool learning features.


Testing is one area in which online learning does extremely well. With a timed test in which the questions are randomized from a huge pool of questions or topics, it is easy to determine a student’s understanding even if the test is open book.

Some MOOC’s such as Saylor Academy and Edx provide proctored tests online. Saylor Academy uses a service called ProctorU for proctoring the exam online since the exam is close-book. Other popular providers such as Coursera are open book but they simply review all the material that was already covered within the whole course.

Many popular industry certification tests also have an adaptive online format so individual questions increase in difficulty as the previous questions are correctly answered. This allows the program to test the student’s level of understanding for attaining the certification.

I’ve usually found online exams to be a lot more fun as they remove all the physical exam room distractions and noise. Also, except for the certification exams, most other online tests can usually be taken at a time that’s convenient for the student. It can also be taken in the comfort of one’s home and without the burden of a commute to the exam center.

However, there is a general concern as to whether cheating can be effectively controlled in an online test. In a regular exam room, there is a person/ proctor who monitors all the test taker’s activities to ensure there is no cheating.


The one area which can be a concern is the issue of privacy though there are a number of laws protecting privacy online. Web sites and site owners are required to provide basic features that protect user data on their sites. But nevertheless, it is very easy to collect individual user data online, which is not the case in a regular campus classroom.

Providing a more personalized user experience online also requires the tracking of user cookies. But as long as the site owner or administrator follows general privacy guidelines required by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the US and anything else that protects individual user data, this should generally not be a cause of concern.

Motivation and Student Interaction

With online learning, there are many benefits of cost, time and a more individualized learning experience. Despite this, some people prefer campus based learning as it provides face-to-face conversation. Online learning requires students to be more motivated than simply passively going from classroom to classroom at specific times.

Ultimately it all depends on the student’s level of interest in the subject matter. Once you find a course thoroughly interesting, it will hardly matter whether the course is in a campus or online. With the additional saving of cost and time, I would say that online classes are actually easier to take than the campus classes.

However there is the issue of personal contact with fellow students. Students like to be in the company of other students and often enjoy fun and relaxed time together. Though this does not directly increase the student’s learning, it certainly adds an element of competition and social pressure that pushes students to excel.

Therefore, perhaps a combination of online courses and classroom courses is the way to go! Or even for purely online courses, it would be a lot more fun to add some personal events where students can get together say for a conference or workshop occasionally. Alternatively, the online platform could have more student-to-student type of interactive features. However for the highly motivated student, online courses are probably the easiest and the best investment of the student’s time and money.


There are times when a student simply does not have the option of studying in a campus classroom due to lack of time or other resources. That is perhaps the best advantage of online learning as it makes learning possible for every student no matter what their lifestyle restrictions may be.

Also in the current situation of the pandemic, mastering the art of learning online is a survival skill that no student can ignore anymore. Initially, switching from campus learning to online learning may involve a learning curve and require some adjustments. But over time, you will start to become very proficient with online learning and be able to take advantage of all the benefits it offers.

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