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Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have had to adjust to a new way of doing things and education is just one of the many institutions forced to adapt. Social distancing laws across the world have forced educators to take lessons online with little notice or opportunity for planning — and it’s been a challenge. These challenges have highlighted the convenience and attractiveness of programs that are designed to be completed at home — distance learning, or distance education programs.  

Distance learning programs differ from the traditional college model in that there is little to no on-campus requirement for the student. Today, distance learning courses are completed online using teleconferencing, video recording and online drop boxes for work. 

There are three main categories that distance learning falls into: Synchronous distance learning; Asynchronous distance learning; and Hybrid distance learning. 

Synchronous distance learning: As the name suggest, this type of distance learning happens live, and students attend lectures at the same time. This type of distance learning allows collaboration between classmates and teachers in real time and is communication driven. 

This is the most common form of online education offered by traditional college institutions. Students still “attend” class and meet coursework deadlines as if they were on campus. 

It’s also important to note that at many institutions there may still be some form of on-campus requirement. An MA distance learning program, for example may require a week of campus learning for group or project work. 

Asynchronous distance learning: This type of learning does not require students to be learning at the same time. There may still be deadlines for work completion (strictness of deadlines varies by institution), but students access recordings of lectures and other materials on their own schedule and work at their own pace. 

An international career forum is a source to learn more about asynchronous learning and how students who require a little more flexibility with their schedules or students with existing careers or families can benefit from this program.

Hybrid distance learning: This category of distance learning is a combination of the above categories. Students may still be required to attend scheduled lectures via teleconferencing, but work is completed on the student’s own time and at their pace. 

We’re seeing a lot of this right now as educators work to adapt course material that was designed for in-classroom learning and move it online for students. This type of learning might also be used by institutions that lack space to accommodate large numbers of students enrolled in the program.   

Distance learning as a model

Even before COVID-19 forced colleges to send students home, distance learning programs were gaining increasing popularity. A 2019 Forbes article reported that “students are increasingly turning to online courses because they have become a better way to learn.” And the biggest reason cited for online course popularity? Access. Access to peers, instructors and more frequent assessment. 

Online courses just make sense for students who need an education option that comes to them, rather than requiring them to go to it. The Pandemic highlighted distance learning in the context of social distancing, but even outside of a pandemic, distance learning is an attractive option for many students.