Distance Education Types – Comparison of Three Models

Distance Education Types – Comparison of Three Models

Distance Learning Models

Distance education is a flexible study mode where the instructor or educational institution and the students are physically separated. This study mode has different variances that are influenced by changes with the technologies. In this post I present a summary of three distance education types or models so you can have a clear vision of the potential uses of them.

How much content is delivered online?

  • Online Courses: More than 80% of the course is delivered online (Burns, 2011).
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses: Between 30-79% of the course content is delivered online and the rest is delivered with face-to-face interactions in the classroom (Burns, 2011).
  • Web-facilitated Courses: Between 1-29% is delivered online and the major part of the content is delivered in the conventional classroom (Burns, 2011).

How much separation is between the learner and the facilitator?

  • Online Courses: Learners and instructors are separated by geography and time. In this model, courses can be delivered in different time and different place (DT-DP) which is called asynchronous online earning. And could also be delivered in the same time and different place (ST-DP) which is called synchronous online learning (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses: This type of model is a combination of online and face-to-face. The instructor and learners are separated by different places (DP) in the online part and could still be separated by different time (DT) although sometimes could still interact synchronously or at the same time (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).
  • Web-facilitated Courses: There is minimal physical and time separation between instructors and learners. In this model the separation comes from the content and the resources of the course that are in a separate or remote location. In this case, that small portion of the course content and resources are accessed through the web in the classroom with the instructor or at a different time and place than the conventional class meeting (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).

In what ways is technology used with each model?

  • Online Courses: Web 2.0 (blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking sites) are used to allow students to share information and to collaborate. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are used to host course content, to allow students to participate in discussion forums, access grades, and load assignments (Liebowitz, 2013).
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses: Blogs, wikis, and websites are used to allow students to build ePortfolios and work on projects to deepen the learning experience. LMS in hybrid courses allow instructor and peer review (Bragg & Swenson, 2009).
  • Web-facilitated Courses: Mobile technology (laptops, tablets, ipads, mobile phones) to allow learners to access online content, educational games, and simulations (Johnson, Adams, Estrada, & Freeman, 2015).

Pros for each model:

  • Online Courses:
    • Saving travel time for instructors and learners.
    • Learners can work on their courses according to their own schedules.
    • Instructors can handle a larger number of students.
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses:
    • Having some classroom sessions retains the class social dynamic and its sense of connection among students and faculty, while decreasing the amount of scheduled class time and commuting time for students and faculty.
    • More flexible schedule and better ability to work from different locations.
    • More efficient use of classroom space which could increase classroom availability (University of Washington Bothell, n.d.).
  • Web-facilitated Courses:
    • Synchronous peer and instructor interactions allow students to receive immediate individual feedback and mentorship.
    • Faculty members can gauge their students’ level of engagement, attentiveness, and comprehension.
    • Most faculty members are very familiar and comfortable with this format (University of Washington, 2013).

Cons for each model:

  • Online Courses:
    • Learners might have problems comprehending course information that is technical, quantitative, or scientifically oriented.
    • Difficulties to modify lecture plans and content based on instant feedback from learners.
    • The physical and time separation between instructor and learner can introduce delays in addressing problems (Hannay & Newvine, 2006).
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses:
    • The designing phase may take a big effort in order to maximize active learning and student engagement in both environments (online and classroom) (University of Washington, 2013).
    • Some learners will miss the social stimulation of face-to-face sessions (Zappia, n.d.).
  • Web-facilitated Courses:
    • Students must arrange their schedules for classroom sessions, which may limit access to classes for those working.
    • Students may be intimidated by asking clarification questions in person during class (University of Washington, 2013).

What factors need to be considered when implementing each model?

  • Online Courses:
    • IT Infrastructure: proper Internet, bandwidth, and LMS. Training for the academic staff and students on using the tools and motivate them to adopt eLearning.
    • Upgrade and review the existing curriculum or training to see if it can be converted into eLearning (Kumar, 2014).
  • Blended/Hybrid Courses:
    • Reliability of technology.
    • Technical support for academics and students.
    • Network security.
    • Availability of resources and learning materials.
    • Methods of evaluation and assessment.
    • Course objectives.
    • Optimal connection between classroom and online activities (Morote, Wittmann, Kelly, 2007).
  • Web-facilitated Courses:
    • Technology should be simple enough for the students to be engaged.
    • To ensure that students are not distracted by new technologies, forming habits around technology is fundamental. The first utilization should provide a model for future interactions (Geer, 2009).

In Summary

As you can see, there are many possibilities with distance education in its different modalities. Here I have presented a snapshot of three distance learning models, online courses, blended/hybrid and web-facilitated.

I personally like completely online courses when they are about a basic, introductory or awareness level about a particular subject. Whereas blended/hybrid models could be the next step after that initial fully online introductory course to deepen concepts and the subjects of study. And web-facilitated courses are also a great alternative to build communities of practice and meaningful interactions live with other students.

Which model would best fit in your current organization or learning experience, and why? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Till next time,

Thais 🙂


Bragg, C.K. & Swenson, P. (2009). Online and hybrid courses: maximizing student learning. In T. Bastiaens, J. Dron & C. Xin (Eds.), Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2009 (pp. 843-846). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Burns, M. (2011). Distance education for teacher training: modes, models, and methods. Retrieved from http://idd.edc.org/resources/publications/modes-models-and-methods

Geer, R. (2009). Strategies for blended approaches in teacher education. In: Stacey, E., and Gerbic, P. (Eds.) Effective Blended Learning Practices: Evidence-based Perspectives in ICT-Facilitated Education, Information Science Reference: Hershey, NH.

Hannay, M., Newvine, T. (2006). Perceptions of distance learning: a comparison of online and traditional learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/05011.htm

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Kumar, K. (2014). 4 factors you need to consider before implementing e-learning. [Web post]. Retrieved from http://blog.commlabindia.com/elearning-design/factors-before-implementing-elearning

Liebowitz, J. (2013). A Comparative Study of Emerging Technologies for Online Courses. Distance Learning, 10(3), 1-11.

Morote, E.S., Wittmann, H. & Kelly, T. (2007). What really matters for faculty to develop and implement hybrid/blended courses?. In R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber & D. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2007 (pp. 1085-1089). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

University of Washington Bothell. (n.d.). Hybrid learning benefits. [Web post]. Retrieved from http://www.bothell.washington.edu/learningtech/hybrid-and-online-learning/hybrid-learning/about-hybrid-learning/benefits

University of Washington. (2013). Exploring the pros and cons of online, hybrid, and face-to-face class formats. Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/provost/files/2012/11/edtrends_Pros-Cons-ClassFormats.pdf

Zappia, S. (n.d). Pros & cons of hybrid courses. [Web post]. Retrieved from http://education.seattlepi.com/pros-cons-hybrid-courses-3288.html

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2 Responses

  1. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% positive. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Appreciate it

    • Thais says:

      Hi Jayme, I created this blog in WordPress. It didn’t cost me much. I only bougth one of the templates and it was so easy to use. I did some of the images and others I found from banks of images. I hope this helps.

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