Online Vs In-Person/Contact Study: Which Is Right For You?

As a prospective student, one of the first decisions you'll need to make is whether to study online or via in-person (contact). Both options have merit, and understanding the ins and outs of each can help you make an informed decision.

What Are Online And In-Person Classes?

Online Classes

Online learning, also known as distance education, has become increasingly popular, especially in the wake of technological advancements and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. These classes are conducted over the internet, allowing students to access lectures, materials and assignments from the comfort of their own homes.

Key characteristics of online classes include:

  • Flexibility: Online classes often offer flexible schedules, allowing students to study at their own pace and balance other commitments, such as work or family responsibilities.
  • Accessibility: Students from a variety of locations can access online courses, breaking down geographical barriers and providing educational opportunities to a broader audience.
  • Technological integration: These classes rely heavily on technology, using a range of online platforms for video and live lectures, discussion forums and online assessments.

In Person/Contact Classes

These follow the traditional model of face-to-face instruction within a physical classroom. Key characteristics include:

  • Social interaction: In-person classes allow for direct social interaction between students and lecturers, creating a more interactive learning environment.
  • Networking opportunities: Students in physical classrooms often have the chance to build professional networks, and work together with their fellow students on issues that often extend beyond the curriculum.
  • Scheduled structure: In-person classes follow a set schedule, requiring students to attend lectures and participate in activities at specific times.

Different Students, Different Needs

Online classes

Online classes are best for students who want flexibility and a personalised learning experience. They are particularly suitable for:

  • Working people: Those juggling work commitments can benefit from the flexibility offered by online classes as it allows them to engage in further education without disrupting their careers.
  • Remote learners: People living in remote areas can access quality education without having to relocate.
  • Self-motivated learners: Because online classes demand self-discipline and motivation, those students who thrive in a self-directed learning environment may find this mode of study rewarding.

In person/contact classes

In-person classes are better suited for students who enjoy a more structured approach and a socially interactive environment. These classes are best for:

  • Social personalities: Students who enjoy face-to-face interaction with peers and lecturers, as well as the opportunity to learn collaboratively, will prefer the opportunities available through in-person classes.
  • Making connections: Students looking to build strong professional networks and engage in immediate, real-time discussions benefit from opportunities to build relationships with those who can help their future careers.
  • Learners wanting structure: People who prefer a fixed schedule and a more traditional approach to education may find in-person classes a more comfortable fit.

The Pros And Cons Of Online Classes


  • Online classes provide the flexibility to study from anywhere and at any time, which makes education accessible to a far broader and more diverse audience.
  • Technological integration: Students become proficient at using a range of digital tools and platforms, improving their technological skills.
  • Cost saving: Online education can be cost-effective, as it means there are no travel and subsistence expenses.


  • Limits social interaction: A lack of face-to-face interaction can lead to a sense of isolation, loneliness and removes the opportunity to further develop social skills and emotional intelligence.
  • Need for technology: Without adequate access to technology and a stable internet connection, students’ ability to participate in online classes is severely limited.
  • Requires self-discipline: As there is no formal monitoring or collaboration with peers, some students may not have the self-control necessary to manage their time or stay motivated.

The Pros And Cons Of In-Person/Contact Classes


  • Social interaction: In-person classes allow for immediate and sustainable social connections and networking opportunities. It also allows for engagement with fellow students and immediate feedback from lecturers. Altogether this results in a more well-rounded learning experience.
  • Structured learning environment: The fixed schedule of face-to-face learning gives students both routine and accountability, which encourages a disciplined approach to studies.
  • Practical activities: Some subjects need laboratory work and/or practical demonstrations, while other subjects promote interactive engagement, including working with peers. This is far easier in a physical classroom.


  • Little flexibility: In-person classes rely on a fixed schedule which may be a challenge for people with other commitments, like work or family responsibilities.
  • Geographical limitations: Students must be physically present at a particular location which has both time and financial implications.
  • Course limitations: Physical campuses offer a finite number of course or programme options whereas the nature of online study means that there is a far wider selection of courses available to study.

Adapting To Student Learning Styles

Online classes

Online classes can accommodate a range of learning styles thanks to multimedia resources, interactive platforms, and adaptive learning technologies (these are like smart tools that use data to customise the learning experience). However, the teacher-student interaction is more limited, as it relies solely on virtual communication.

In-person/contact classes

With in-person classes students get immediate feedback, personal attention and real-time interaction. Lecturers are able to use a range of teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles.

The Future Of Education: Trends And Predictions

New trends and emerging technologies will very likely shape the future of education including:

  • A blend of online and in-person classes, offering the flexibility of online study while retaining the benefits of face-to-face interaction.
  • The growing use of technology, with virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other tools impacting the learning experience.
  • The focus on lifelong learning, as people look for ongoing and continuous skill development throughout their careers.
  • Collaboration between industries and educational institutions to ensure that academic theory aligns with the growing demands of the job market.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.