Online classes, often referred to as distance learning courses, and traditional on-campus classroom classes might seem like they're worlds apart. However, there are many similarities between the two types of learning. Both methods require students to study resource materials and glean information from instructors. Advancements in technology have also made it possible for distance learners to participate in classroom discussions as if they were sitting right in the same room.


Distance learners and traditional classroom attendees use textbooks and online resources for classroom assignments. Both types of students typically have Internet access, so websites and research materials are equally available. Textbooks are the same for both learners, so there's no discrepancy in content. Distance learners are at a disadvantage if teachers use hands-on resource materials in a classroom setting such as three-dimensional manipulatives, tangible illustrations, chemicals that have a specific odor or materials with texture.

Teacher Instruction

Both types of learning rely on teacher instruction. Depending on the type of class and the design of the online program, a student might view and listen to a teacher's lecture presented to a traditional classroom of students. Some lectures are live and others are prerecorded, so a distance learner can view the materials at her own convenience or pace. In other online programs, teachers interact one on one with students, and there's no classroom lecture. Either way, students are required to interact with teachers and learn from their instruction.


According to the Journal of Public Affairs Education, both online and traditional classrooms include formal assessments and quizzes. In both cases, teachers can set time limits for test completion and allow for closed- or open-book testing methods. The content is usually the same for online and classroom tests, but some evaluations may be limited. For example, an online test taker might not have access to classroom equipment necessary for biology or chemistry lab tests. It's much easier for teachers to monitor cheating in a classroom setting, although online test takers can't see other student's exams. Online test takers might use the Internet or textbooks to answer questions, and the teacher may never know.


Online learning programs and on-campus classroom settings require students to complete assignments. For an online student, there's not much meaning to the term "homework," since all of the work is done at home. However, both groups must complete assignments as instructed by the teacher. Math problems, written papers and scientific study are part of both learning structures. Classroom students often grade each other's work or edit each other's written assignments, but distance learners don't have that opportunity, unless their work and their classmates' work is sent electronically.