Different Types of Distance Learning
Explore the four general categories for online programs
Distance learning has evolved greatly since the days of correspondence learning in which the student would receive course materials including textbooks and other course materials through the mail. Students would then work completely at their own pace, finishing the course according to their work and life schedule. Although correspondence courses still exist, they are quickly being replaced by online courses, which offer instruction from teachers, interaction with other students, and a forum for feedback.
There are a number of advantages to the new formats of distance learning, such as making permanent professional contacts, a greater amount of teacher support and a multimedia educational experience. With the advent and improvements on computer, digital and Internet technology, the shift from the traditional classroom experience to online or distance learning only seems natural. This is especially true for programs that traditionally require large amounts of reading and written assignments, such as business administration and management, human resources management and services, finance and accounting.
There are a variety of ways to structure distance learning courses. The format depends on the purpose of the online course. Are you seeking an online degree and taking a full online course load? Or are you supplementing your on-campus curriculum with online classes? Or perhaps your school has an overload of courses and requires that you take an online course. Whatever the reason, it is important to know which type of distance learning course you are taking so you can understand the time and travel requirements that will be expected of you.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Distance Learning
The four types of distance learning fall under the categories of either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous literally means “at the same time”, while asynchronous means “not at the same time”. Synchronous distance learning involves live communication either through sitting in a classroom, chatting online, or teleconferencing. Asynchronous distance learning usually has a set of weekly deadlines, but otherwise allows students to work at their own pace. Students have more interaction with their peers and deliver correspondence through online bulletin boards. This type of learning might get tedious for some because they are usually only receiving the information through text medium, however some asynchronous classes involve video or audio supplements.
Synchronous learning is less flexible and disrupts the student’s life to a greater extent. It is, however, the most popular form of college distance learning and continuing education programs, as it facilitates a greater amount of interaction between students and professors.
Some classes that do well in a synchronous format include those degree programs that highlight communication, such as general psychology, nursing, general education, and counseling psychology. Those programs that weigh more heavily on projects and assignments thrive in an asynchronous format because they provide the students with more time to focus on their work. A few degrees that work well in this format include marketing, healthcare administration, legal assistant or paralegal, educational/instructional media design and advertising.
Open Schedule Online Courses
With open schedule online courses, students are allotted the greatest amount of freedom. This is an asynchronous form of learning in which students are provided Internet-based textbooks, mailing lists, Email and bulletin boards to complete their coursework. At the beginning of classes, the student is provided a set of deadlines, but is allowed to work at their own pace as long as the work is turned in by the deadline. This type of learning is great for students who work well independently and those who do not procrastinate.
Hybrid Distance Learning
Hybrid courses combine synchronous and asynchronous learning to create a structure in which the student is required to meet at a specific time in a classroom or Internet chat room. However, they are allowed to complete assignments on their own time and may pass them in through an online forum. This option is sometimes offered when a university lacks adequate space to accommodate all their course loads.
Computer Based Distance Learning
The main difference between computer based learning and hybrid learning is that students are not allowed an open schedule. They are required to meet in a specific computer lab or in a classroom at a designated time each week.
Fixed Time Online Courses
The most common type of distance learning today is fixed time courses. As the title states, these courses are strictly online, but students are required to log-in to their online learning site at a specific time. Although they are completely online, the format remains synchronous because mandatory live chats are often required.
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