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Traditional Learning Versus Distance Learning: A Comparison

Traditional on-campus classroom environments have been the dominant education technique for generations. However, with the advent and evolution of the Internet and other information technologies, online or distance learning is becoming more and more popular. Both traditional and distance learning programs provide quality education, with the main difference between them being the content delivery method.

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What is the Difference Between Traditional Learning and Distance Learning?

Traditional Learning

Traditional learning programs utilize the long-established technique of on-campus classroom meetings for delivering course information and facilitating student conversation and debate. Students meet at an assigned time and place to partake in class lectures, labs, study groups and exams. Traditional learning environments are more structured than distance learning programs and provide face-to-face contact with fellow students and professors.

Distance Learning

At its inception over 100 years ago, distance learning utilized the United States Post Office to deliver course materials and exams for what were then called correspondence courses. Today, distance learning, eLearning and online programs use various forms of media, information technology and the Internet to deliver course materials.

Distance learning programs deliver course materials via webinars, live streaming lectures, asynchronous lectures, PowerPoint presentations and content management systems. Group discussions and communication between faculty and students transpire by means of email, message boards and chat rooms.

Program Length

Some online distance programs allow students to view lectures and take exams at their convenience. Given the chance to study at their own pace, some students may complete a degree program faster online than they would in a traditional setting. On the other hand, there are distance programs that have real-time lectures at set times, with assignment and exam deadlines.

Technical Requirements

While traditional on-campus programs may require students to own their own computer and software, distance learning programs require a great deal more technology. Students need to have daily access to email and the Internet, various software programs, and in some cases hardware, such as a web camera or a headset.


Finally, distance learning can sometimes be less expensive than traditional courses. Since courses are typically taken online, state residency restrictions do not influence tuition rates. Course materials made available online also alleviate the cost of textbooks. Some schools may offer tuition or fee discounts for their online distance programs not available for on-campus programs.

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