The digital debate: On-campus or online learning?

June 26, 2023

Roxanne Denman

Recent global events have shaped how we socialize, learn, work, and travel. While experiencing university is a dream for some, others would prefer to go digital when studying. And 77% of educators back online learning as per research from the University of the Potomac. With most universities offering flexible programs that allow students to learn from their home country, they are opening doors for some who can't afford the complexities of in-person studying but still want degrees from top schools. However, some students still yearn for the university experience and crave the adventure of studying abroad or at home among their peers. Whether you want the remote online learning option or the comprehensive on-campus university experience - or even a blend of the two - some educational institutions allow students to explore both options and help them decide what suits them best.  Let's look at some unique facets of learning and weigh in on how the on-campus and online experience compares. And if you are an introverted extrovert like me and can’t decide - may the force be with you!  

The university experience

Some people aren't concerned with the overall university experience. They want to study, graduate, and journey to their next life phase. However, others desire classroom interaction. Immersing yourself in university culture can help you sharpen your skills while making new friends. You get to bounce ideas off peers and get feedback from lecturers on mistakes in real time. Others would want a blended version. and that is what someone like me would go for. I'd immerse myself in the experience and then get to learn off campus. But if you yearn for the university experience, no amount of time spent online will give you the same adventure.

Our winner: On-campus.


I thought that on-campus learning would be more expensive until I researched a sought-after degree - quickly realizing that you are not paying for the university experience - but your qualification. The costs are very similar! However - university life can be costly for an international student. So living costs depend on where your funding originates from, living circumstances, and the exchange rate of currencies. If you live at home and learn digitally, you will probably save on costs like rent, food, transport, and socializing, too. Students who partake in in-class learning can pay up to $1 360 annually for travel expenses research from Education Data suggests. *Ouch* 

Our winner: Online.

Adaptability and flexibility 

Are you looking for flexibility? Online learning will allow students to set their own pace when it comes to studying and gives them the option of drawing up a schedule that works for them. On-campus learning can be time-consuming, demanding, and has little breathability if you need to work while you study. An online platform may yield better results for people who need this added elasticity when obtaining their degree. And usually, those who need flexibility in their schedules have less time - and eLearning states that online learning typically requires 40 - 60% less time than on-campus learning. 

Our winner: Online.

The power of communication 

Discussing ideas and topics is an integral part of the learning experience. Online students have found ways to participate in discussions, but learning to communicate face-to-face still improves your communication skills by helping us adopt essential social cues - and communication skills are as vital as course content. Studying on-campus gives students the freedom to dedicate time to building invaluable relationships, which is the foundation of your post-degree network. While online learning can definitely incorporate these relationships, there is nothing like nurturing in-person bonds.  

Our winner: On-campus.

The actual learning process

What's better for students - gaining knowledge from an in-class lecture or watching and listening remotely?  While listening and learning online is convenient, are you disciplined enough to drown out all distractions to focus on the lesson? How much of your online class is actually sinking in? On the other hand, how much deep learning is happening when you are in the classroom? Are you easily distracted by others, or do you zone out when surrounded by people? How deep your focus is and which type of learning process suits you better depends on your learning style and level of discipline. While some people thrive in the classroom and use everything they have to succeed (lecturers, team discussions), others may focus better with fewer distractions and still partake in topic discussions.

Our winner: It's a tie.

It’s about you 

What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. While a 19-year-old student will be able to attend classes without distractions, the 39-year-old mom needs to have a flexible online learning schedule to suit her needs better. While one student can attend on-campus classes and blend them with online learning, the student staying across the world who can’t move won’t be able to do blended learning and would require online learning platforms.  We all have contrasting needs, and we must remember to use the tools we have to achieve academic success - no matter where we are in the world. 

Our winner: Everyone. 

What we think

As education marketers, we're excited to live in a world where we can toss up the pros and cons between on-campus and online learning. It means that our education sources have diversified so much that it allows more people to achieve their academic goals - and as the world progresses, we believe more people will be exposed to more possibilities every day. Students need to identify the factors that will influence their decision and then choose a course that provides the learning platform they need. Weighing up the experience, the cost, the course flexibility, and the learning process against their needs will open the doors to deciding. We are excited to be part of the marketing teams for inspiring education companies. We are passionate about creating content that guides students along the decision-making process. 

Want to know how we have helped education companies reach their target audience to convert? Read our case study here.

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