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Online, Hybrid and In-Person College Courses

College is no longer confined to just the campus. In today’s modern world, many residential colleges and universities offer alternatives to classroom-bound courses. Chief among these novel offerings is the online course – a college class that takes place through the Internet. Online courses allow traditional colleges to compete with wholly online schools and to offer their ever-diversifying student body a new pathway to a college degree. Extenuating circumstances, such as the novel COVID-19 pandemic, may spur colleges to rapidly expand their online college classes as well as offer new takes on traditional in-person classes or even hybrid options. So which kind of college course is best? It depends on what kind of student you are and what kind of instruction best suits your learning style.

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Online Courses

Online courses are college classes that occur entirely through the medium of the Internet. Technology frames an online class, and professors may utilize video conferencing apps, instant messaging, class-specific message boards and learning management systems to create an interactive and responsive curriculum. Students connect to online classes using a computer, laptop or tablet and communicate with their professors and classmates by typing, speaking over a mic and casting on a video screen. A variety of majors can easily adapt to online instruction, including math, literature, history and foreign language, and courses in computer science or digital art work particularly well with computer-based instruction.

Pros:

  • Students can access class from anywhere as long as they have an internet connection. That means they can create a study environment that suits their individual needs and learning style.
  • No need to live on or commute to campus – which means no room and board fee, which means lower student loans and less student debt!
  • All students are visible to the professor and vice-versa. If students feel like they disappear in lecture halls, online classes will put them right in front of their professor. And professors who are hard to hear or hard to read from a distance will be up close and personal on a video screen.
  • Opportunity to study at own pace. This is particularly true for asynchronous classes, but even real-time online classes give students flexibility in working at their own speed.
  • Help develop self-discipline and responsibility. For students up to the challenge, online courses can help them develop independence, self-reliance and a strong sense of discipline – all skills that will aid them greatly in the workplace
  • Completely socially distant. Online classes may be a safer alternative to in-person classes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cons:

  • Lack of ability to interact physically with classmates and professors. Social students might miss the physicality of the traditional classroom and find making friends or asking questions to the professor over the internet to be difficult.
  • Not every student has the same access to necessary tech. For students without a working laptop or strong Internet connection, online courses can be near impossible.
  • Professors may vary in online proficiency. Modern technology doesn’t come as easily to some professors as it does to their students. While schools may invest time in training their professors in how to use Zoom or Blackboard, those without tech-savviness may not teach the most effective online courses.
  • Reliance on technology working. Power outages, apps going down and students running out of batteries on their laptops or tablets can all bring online classes to a screeching halt.
  • Students must show responsibility and self-discipline. Unmotivated students will be challenged by the discipline and responsibility necessary for success in online courses.

In-Person Courses

In-person courses are your typical college courses. Class takes place in a dedicated space on campus, whether a classroom, lab, studio or lecture hall. Professors and students are physically present in the classroom during the course period. In-person courses are aided by common classroom tools like whiteboards or chalkboards, paper handouts, video projectors, desks and chairs and pencil and paper. Students may be called on to answer questions or can raise their own questions with the professor. In-person instruction is vital to classes that involve experimentation or working with special tools, such as science labs or art classes.

Pros:

  • Students and professors can interact physically in the same space. Students can ask their professors questions or rely on a nearby friend for help in real-time.
  • Equal access to classroom tools from simple handouts to expensive lab equipment and art supplies.
  • Greater variety of course options than online courses. More teachers are used to teaching in-person classes than online classes, and some classes simply work best in-person.
  • Easier access to feedback from your professor, teaching assistant or peers. A physical classroom makes it easier to get immediate feedback during class and right before or right after class. Plus, with being on campus you can more easily schedule time to meet with your professor or a teaching assistant during their office hours.
  • Requires less self-discipline than online classes. Some students find the structured environment of in-person learning to be better suited to their education habits.
  • Caters to different learning styles. Administrators, professors and school officials have had a longer time to grasp how to implement learning accommodations in an in-person class than an online class. Students can also participate in independent study or take advantage of campus tutors depending on their learning needs.

Cons:

  • Requires that students live on campus or commute to campus to attend courses. Students must come to class physically, which means either paying to live on campus or giving themselves the time to commute there.
  • Residency/Commuting results in extra fees. Even if your school has a residency requirement, you will be paying for room and board in addition to school tuition. Commuters don’t residence fees, but they do pay for parking and gas – and have to find a space to park on campus.
  • Less flexibility in scheduling. Unlike in online instruction, in-person courses are always synchronous courses. Students must make time in their schedule to attend the class.
  • Students can get lost in the shuffle of a large class, especially if they are surrounded by talkative peers.
  • Not socially distant. Particularly in extenuating circumstances (i.e. COVID-19), participants will be required to follow school protocols for wearing a mask and sitting apart. This may make in-person classes more difficult and less appealing than online classes.

Hybrid College Courses

Hybrid courses, also known as blended courses, combine online and in-person instruction in a meaningful way that plays to both courses’ strengths. When done right, a hybrid course can allow students to experience real-time feedback, in-person socialization and communal instruction while also allowing them the time to work at their own pace, direct self-discovery and attain a greater degree of flexibility. Whether a hybrid course is centered more on the online or in-person experience will vary from professor to professor. Likewise, a hybrid course may not give equal time to in-person attendance and online learning. Some courses may have staggered attendance, where half the class tunes in virtually and the other is in the classroom, but they may also have students appear less frequently in the physical classroom. Furthermore, courses using a “HyFlex” model allow students to pick when they come in-person and when they access class online.

Pros:

  • Students get access to the social classroom environment where they can interact with their peers and professors face-to-face…
  • …And get greater flexibility and ability to learn at own pace when they move to online portions of the course.

Cons:

  • May be uneven, with online and in-person learning not being used to its greatest effect. This can translate into pre-recorded lectures that go over what was already taught in class rather than furthering in-person concepts.
  • Can result in more work for students if a professor simply creates extra assignments for the online portion of the class rather than truly splitting materials between in-person and online sessions.
  • More precarious than online classes in terms of social distancing. If in-person classes are deemed no longer safe to hold, hybrid classes can become online classes without the hybrid benefits.

Unsure which style of class works best for you? Consider signing up for a mixture of online, in-person and hybrid classes. Then, utilize your school’s Add/Drop period – usually the first two weeks of the semester – to get a feel for how each course operates. If one style doesn’t suit you, you can drop it and pick up a course in a different class mode.

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Last Reviewed: December 2021