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Difference Between Traditional & Online Master's Degree Programs

UL Grad School -- 06/17/2016

Traditional vs Online Masters Degree ProgramsEarning your master’s degree is a great idea for improving your career prospects, personal knowledge, self-satisfaction, and more. But how should you earn that master’s degree: online or in a traditional on-campus program? Before you decide, run through the pros and cons of both to make sure you’re choosing the option that best fits your lifestyle and learning style.


How you spend your time

When you’re a traditional master’s student, you’ll probably split your time between campus and home. You’ll walk, drive a vehicle, or ride your bike to campus where you’ll attend your scheduled classes, stop by a professor’s office, and work certain hours for your assistantship. You may work on your coursework in the library or somewhere else on campus, and then go home at the end of the day to continue working from there.

As an online master’s degree student, you won’t spend your time commuting to campus. Maybe you’ll have to make the walk across your room to your desk to start working on assignments, or maybe you’ll work on them during the lunch hour at your office. You have flexibility to work and learn on your own time. Of course, you’ll have to turn in your assignments on time and, on occasion, you’ll participate in certain webinars or online lectures at a particular time. The added flexibility of an online student’s schedule makes it appealing for individuals who want to maintain full-time employment or have other family obligations to uphold while earning their degree. 

But having that flexibility means you also have to be responsible for how you spend your time. You have to make your classes a priority. It’s imperative that you have strong time management skills in online master’s degree programs because you—and only you—can make sure you’re staying on track.

How you interact with your professor

Regardless of whether you’re taking your classes online or on campus, you’ll need to learn your professor’s teaching and communication styles. The learning curve for doing so may be a little bit steeper, especially if you haven’t taken a class online before.

Online, you’ll be interacting with your professor in a different way than you may be accustomed. You contact your instructor and advisors via email and other forms of electronic communication like instant message, and you won’t necessarily get to have a face-to-face meeting unless you request to video-chat to discuss a difficult topic. Figuring out how they like to teach and provide feedback on assignments is a crucial part of being an online master’s degree student.

How you work in groups

When you’re working with a group in traditional master’s degree programs, you’ll probably be physically together for at least part of your project, whether that’s in the classroom, a coffee shop, the library, or someone’s apartment. You’ll bond with your classmates and maybe even become like a small family by the end of the semester.

In an online master’s degree program, just because you don’t see your classmates face-to-face doesn’t mean you are free from group projects. With online master’s degree programs, there is a different sense of community among classmates. Even though it’s online, you’ll still collaborate with your classmates on projects and assignments. Keeping an open line of communication becomes even more important, as is learning how to use online collaboration software like Google documents. Your ability to facilitate quality shared work with a remote team will improve significantly—that’s just one of many 21st-century job skills you will need to be competitive. To learn online, you will want to become comfortable with the aspects of virtual teaming, where some of the same principles of traditional group work apply.

What tools you have available

Luckily for students today, the technological tools, both software and hardware, available for online students are vast and help expand beyond the classroom learning experience without requiring you to be in an exact place at an exact time.

That said, you will need to be open to new types of technology and learning tools, whether that’s Google+ hangouts, Skype conference calls, online forums, or even Facebook groups. You will want to begin to view your mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) as classrooms with teaching and learning tools. The app store will become your tutor and your toolkit for delivering impressive assignments. You can use these tools to customize your learning experience, so take advantage of what’s available.

Does location matter?

Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. Not all online programs are offered in every state, so you do need to do your research before sending in your applications. And, if you're looking for programs outside your home state, you will have to consider the out-of-state versus in-state tuition costs. However, as an out-of-state student studying at UL Lafayette, you automatically receive an out-of-state tuition waiver and pay only the in-state costs.

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