There can be many differences between a traditional degree and an online degree or there can be few. Some of these distinctions are most felt when an online degree is earned from a non-accredited university, and others when a student gets his diploma or transcripts. For instance, some schools automatically make note that the student obtained his degree online, while others don’t, and some online schools have physical campuses, so the actual weight of the degree is not considerably less than if he attended classes on the campus. Additionally, the way each type of degree can be weighed, provided they both come from accredited schools, depends on the student's major and career path, and also if the degree is a first stop toward additional studies, as in graduate programs.
Some students and educators contend that the differences between traditional and online learning are felt by the students, but may not be assessed by future employers. A very thorough program that is conducted online is still different than the experience of taking classes in a traditional classroom setting. Some classes may have a certain amount of student participation, where students are learning together, and others are self-paced and self-directed. The truth of “physical campus” classes is that learning opportunities exist not just from teachers, but from other students too.
Participation and discussion in a classroom may enhance a student's education, giving him opportunities for thinking about the things he learns in different ways. Moreover, some general education courses have a certain amount of hands on requirements, such as science labs. It’s hard to know how online classes would match these requirements, though a non-science major may not ever need to have taken a lab. Nevertheless, an online degree from a well-respected, accredited university isn't likely to be viewed as that different, though it may make sense to get a degree from a university that also has a physical campus and doesn’t specify that the degree was earned online.
There may be some differences between a traditional degree and an online degree if a student plans to attend graduate school. Graduate school applications often rely on you getting excellent letters of recommendation from instructors. Never meeting the instructors except in an online setting often means that it's more difficult for a student to make a great impression. Instructors often don’t get to know students in a personal way, as they would if they were sitting in their classes; they may not even know what the people taking the class look like. This can take the glow off a recommendation, and top grad schools often look for letters of reference from instructors who are very well known, so students may be somewhat limited in terms of where they can go to continue to pursue their education.
Certain fields where a large amount of practical work is required, such as in health care fields, may mean there are big differences between traditional and online training. A nursing student who is pursuing a degree from an online university that does not have an accepted program for him to complete his practicum hours, may find that it's almost impossible to get employment, and the degree may not be worth the paper it’s printed on. Since much of a nursing degree depends on learning things hands on, students may be better served by obtaining a traditional degree.
Some universities offer many online courses, which can help with things like commuting to school, but still require students to spend some time on a physical campus. Degrees received from these universities aren’t considered online degrees and will typically match up well with any traditional degree. Taking some classes online may be a good option if a student works well independently, and if he has a very tight schedule. The student will still probably need to complete some of his courses at the university, which may be the best of both worlds.
Naturally, the biggest differences between a traditional degree and an online degree may be felt by people who get their degree from a university that is not accredited. This basically means that various learning institutions have not judged the degree to be as good as a traditional degree. This may matter hugely if the person is seeking employment or wants to continue his education. Students should always make sure that any university they attend has an excellent reputation and is accredited so that other universities and employers will recognize the degree.