What are the most common types of distance learning?

Distance learning, or distance education, is a teaching method where teachers or students are not physically present in the school or institute. Initially, distance learning used to be conducted by correspondence, where they get studying materials from the institute, study at their own pace and connect to professors via phone call or email. But, with the growing reach of the internet, distance learning is no longer limited to correspondence. 

In fact, correspondence is being replaced by online courses, where students get the learning material online and interact with instructors and other students via discussion forums. Various online platforms are providing resources for free or at a low cost making it possible to learn almost anything from anywhere in the world if you have an internet connection. As distance learning can be an effective tool to decentralize education from institutes and make it accessible on the internet, it won’t be any surprise for distance learning to take over traditional methods in the near future.

Distance learning is a cheap and easier option for students who want to study but can not attend school due to family obligations or financial issues and for students in remote areas where there are not good institutes.

Here are some common types of distance learning.

Synchronous Vs Asynchronous Distance Learning

When it comes to distance learning, a major distinction is whether it is synchronous or asynchronous.

Simply put, synchronous means “at the same time” and asynchronous means “not at the same time.”

In synchronous distance learning, students take part in learning activities simultaneously with the instructor and other students via video conferencing. This method allows students to communicate with professors and other students in real-time. They can solve their doubts easily and have group discussions. On the other hand, this method is less flexible. Students have to follow a fixed schedule of classes and need to have a good internet connection. This method became very popular among schools during the global pandemic of COVID-19 as it allows teachers to analyze students’ class performance and involvement. It is suitable for classes that require more communication and interaction than self-study, like psychology, social sciences, etc. 

In asynchronous distance learning, students do not have to attend online classes at any fixed time. Video recording, online reading materials are provided to students, which they follow along to do assignments, and discussion forums are available to interact with instructors. This method is more flexible and is popular in online learning platforms like Coursera, Udacity, etc. Students can study at their own pace, or there might be weekly deadlines. This method requires more self-discipline and there is less interaction among students and instructors. This method is suitable for classes that rely on assignments and individual projects like design, programming, administration, etc. It is popular among people who want to learn new skills for career transition, promotion, or simply for fun.

Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning allows instructors to share content with students in live classrooms as well as students watching the lecture remotely or later in a time-shifted format. The instructions in class are shared with learners completing the course remotely. This hybridization saves cost and provides fuller and more engaging classes. The online resources can also be shared with in-person students so they can review recordings and resources if needed.

Open Schedule

Open Schedule distance learning comes under the category of asynchronous distance learning. Students are provided with online textbooks, online bulletins, and emails to complete their works. This method gives a lot of freedom to the students as they can work on their own schedule as long as they meet the deadline. This is suitable for people who love to work alone and do not procrastinate.

Fixed Schedule

Fixed Schedule falls under the category of synchronous learning as students need to log-in to the learning environment at a specific time. They have to take part in mandatory live chat and finish the assignments in the allocated time. The fixed schedule is one of the most common distance learning practices. It highly encouraged student interaction but has limited space for self-pacing.

Distance learning is an essential part of long term education strategies. Although initially it was considered an inferior substitute to the traditional education system, now it is outperforming the traditional classroom method. Making education cheaper and accessible to all many educational institutes are embracing distance learning as a tool to connect with wider students. Various types of distance learning are in practice and new methods are being introduced to address the needs of students and courses.

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