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Distance Learning: Concept and Types

Distance Learning: Concept and Types 

Concept of Distance Education

Distance education was started to revolutionaries the concept of higher education throughout the world and was considered as an attractive mode to democratize higher education. Distance education has emerged to be a popular non-formal channel to provide answer to equity, access, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. The first clear statement on distance education was made in the Report of the Education Commission (1964-66) where it is mentioned, “There must also be a method of taking education to the millions who depend upon their own effort to study whenever they have time to do so. We consider that correspondence or home-study courses provide the right answer for these situations.”

The Education Commission further stated, “It is obvious that these universities should not be the only agencies which should organize correspondence courses. Provision of correspondence courses should also be one important function of the extension service of developmental departments of government such as agriculture, industries and health. This should prove to be a valuable method of conveying to the educated and the neo-literate like such knowledge and improved techniques as the departments concerned will to put across.

The recommendation of the Education Commission was incorporated in the National Policy of Education (1986) that “Part time educational and correspondence courses should be developed on a large scale at the university stage. Such facilities should also be developed for secondary school students, for teachers and for agricultural individual and other workers. Education through part time and correspondence courses should be given same status as full time education. Such facilities will bring smooth transition from school to work, promote the cause of education and provide opportunities to a large number of people who have the desires to educate themselves further but cannot do soon a full time basis.”

Today, distance education calls upon an impressive, range of technologies to enable teachers and students who are separated by distance, to communicate with each other either in real time (synchronous) or delayed time (asynchronous). Due to modern communication and technologies, today the educational transactions through distance mode is being utilized by students and teachers engaged in both formal and open system of education.

Rai (2000) has defined three types of distance education systems, viz., Institute-centered, Person-centered and Society-based.

(i) Institute-Centered Distance Education System: In this system there is a predominance of systematic models of education. The institutional mission focuses on the cost-effectiveness and cost-efficiency of the system. Academics become consultants to the institution for material design and development. All other functionaries in the institution are assigned key functions with accountability and individual responsibility.

(ii) Person-Centered distance Education system: Under this system of distance education, the programmers are more individualized and negotiable as the aim is to serve the individual learner. Individualized learning is personally negotiated and is followed up by tutors/counselors.

(iii) Society-Based Distance Education System: In the society based distance education system learning, materials are developed in accordance with the needs of the community. These are used in community situations where the teacher strives to involve the entire community in the study of the learning materials. The teacher functions as a facilitator to identify learning goals, to evaluate learning materials, etc.

Types of Distance Education

In the recent past, distance learning has advanced considerably since the time of correspondence courses where the student would get study resources through email and post. Despite the fact correspondence courses do exist in today’s distance education, it will soon be substituted by online courses thanks to the advent of computers, digitalization, and improved internet technologies. The latest developments in technology have typically led to an increase in the emergence of various types of distance learning, which include the following:

  1. Synchronous distance learningAs we all know, ‘synchronous’ means at the same time’. In this context, it is learning that involve live communication through either chatting online, sitting in a classroom, or even teleconferencing. It is one of the most acclaimed distance learning types that are most suitable for engaging in continuing education programs. Besides that, synchronous learning is preferable for degree programs that draw attention to communication such as counseling psychology, nursing, general education, and general psychology
  2. Asynchronous distance learning– Again, ‘asynchronous’ typically means ‘not at the same time’. In this regard, it is a type of learning that has a strict set of deadlines, often a weekly time limit; however, it allows learners to learn at their own pace. It is also one of the most popular distance learning types because students can communicate with each other seamlessly through online notice/bulletin boards. Programs and courses with plenty of project and assignment work drive well in this format because it provides learners with enough duration to focus on the assigned work. Some of the regular degree programs offered by many institutions through the above distance learning type include marketing, legal assistant, advertising, healthcare administration, and much more.
  3. Hybrid distance learning- As the name suggests, hybrid distance learning combines asynchronous and synchronous learning to form a structure where learners are required to meet at a particular time in an internet chat-room or a classroom. With this platform though, students are required to complete their work at their own pace. Hybrid courses are often offered when learning institutions lack enough space to accommodate all their program course loads.
  4. Electronic learning- Electronic learning is one of the most popular distance learning types, often known as e-learning, which enables learners to access course material(s) on a computer. DVDs, CDs, and different computer- based tools are always used to deliver electronic learning courses.
  5. Fixed time online courses- Fixed time online courses (or online learning) is another common type of distance learning that requires learners have access to the internet. As the name suggests, learners must log in to their official online learning site at a particular time. Most people find online learning more interactive than any other types of distance learning simply because the option allows them to communicate directly with instructors, tutors, and fellow students in real time with the help of live chats or teleconferencing apps. With these apps, students can be to download study materials, submit assignments, complete assignments online, participate in virtual classes, and attend webinars, and so on.
  6. Correspondence learning- As earlier stated, correspondence learning is considered as the earliest type of distance learning. With this option, students would receive learning materials (which include study guides, textbooks, assignments, and any other study materials) through the post. As soon as they get required these documents, they are required work through them at their own pace and in their own time. Depending on the learning institution chosen, learners may be given a chance to request instructors or tutors for help via telephone, e-mail, post, or instant messaging.
  7. Open schedule online courses- An open schedule online course is a type of online distance learning option that gives learners greatest amount of freedom to complete coursework provided through mailing lists, Internet-based textbooks, bulletin boards, and e-mail. At the start of classes, the learners are given a set of deadlines, however, they are allowed to work on their coursework at their own pace so long the complete the within the time limit. It is best learning options for learners who do not procrastinate or work independently.


If you are checking on different types of distance learning, then there is no doubt that the above-listed options will help you make an informed decision. It is important to understand how each work before considering the one that suits your needs. In a nutshell, all of them are perfect for learners who would want to learn a particular course while carrying out their daily chores.

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