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Online Degrees vs Traditional Degrees: 8 Differences Explained

5th May 2016 Posted by: Amy Murnan

IT’S no secret – online degrees are huge. They are rising in popularity around the world, and fast. Their accessibility and flexible learning options make them attractive for all kinds of people, from mature students looking for a career change to young people daunted by extortionate university fees. Some even predict that online courses could revolutionise how higher education works, maybe superseding the traditional degree completely.

But, despite their appeal, online degrees are very different from the real university experience. These differences might seem minor in the fact of student debt, but they are still important things to consider when choosing the course that is right for you. Here are the main differences between online and traditional degrees that you need to know.

Online Degrees

Flexibility: many online degrees allow you to study at intervals that suit you and your schedule. This is ideal if you have a part time job, a family or other commitments that stop you from leaving home right now. Some courses, like those provided at the Open University in the UK, are designed to give you enough time to complete your course at a pace that suits you.

Price: a real, accredited online degree will be roughly the same price as the on-campus version when it comes to tuition fees, but being able to complete it from home has one big advantage: fewer living expenses. You won’t need to move out of your family home, pay for rent or bills, or travel costs to and from lectures. That’s less student debt, and more money to spend on your actual education.

Choice: the adaptability of online degrees works both ways. If a course you want to study isn’t available at your nearest university, it’s no problem – you can study degrees delivered from the other side of the country. Of course, the sheer amount of choice can be confusing, but if you want to study something niche then an online degree can be a great way to do so.

Here's a great TED Talk on the power of online education and how it helps people:

Traditional Degrees

Support and feedback: online degrees have come a long way in providing reliable support and feedback, but can it compare to being able to speak to your professors face-to-face? Perhaps not: data from 2015 shows that students of online courses are less likely to complete their degree than those studying on campus. Whether this is down to the degrees themselves or the commitment of the students is debatable, but it’s definitely something to bear in mind – especially if you find it difficult to stay focused at home.

Resources: there are some things you simply can’t study at home. Maybe you need specialist equipment, tools or materials to really become an expert on your chosen subject. Maybe you’re a budding doctor, dentist or engineer. Or, maybe you’d simply rather not pay for all those books and journals yourself. In any case, universities have a host of top-notch resources for you to use that you typically can’t find off campus.

Language learning: if you want to brush up on a second (or third) language, then sitting at home isn’t the most immersive approach. Going and studying in a place that speaks the language you want to learn will give you the chance to learn much more. Additionally, many large universities have free language learning resources you can’t get at home. For someone who needs to brush up on their English (fast becoming the language of business worldwide), or who simply wants to soak up another culture, this has to be a consideration when choosing between online and traditional degrees.

Independence: perhaps one of the biggest things young people in particular miss out on by studying online degrees is the opportunity to move away from home. This might sound unimportant, but actually it forms what is, for many people, one of the most valuable parts of the university experience. Students who study abroad, in particular, learn life skills like adaptability, resilience and initiative that are difficult (though not impossible) to get when you’re attending lectures from your own home. To use an oft-quoted cliché, it pushes you out of your ‘comfort zone’.

Social life:  Similarly, studying by yourself at home for hours on end can isolate you from another aspect of the university experience: making friends. This isn’t a huge drawback for some people, but if the idea of studying in the quiet with no one to talk to sounds like your idea of a nightmare, an online degree isn’t going to be the best option for you. A group environment can be very motivating, helping you see things from a different perspective or get help when you’re stuck.

Which do you prefer – traditional or online learning? If it’s the former, check out our Universities page, where you can find the right degree course for you.

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