The different forms of distance learning…

This week I’m taking a closer look at the different forms of distance learning. There can sometimes, when considering distance learning, be a tendency to just focus on online learning. In the matrix of distance learning models below I examine online learning, blended/hybrid learning and web-facilitated learning, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of each method.

Table of Definitive Questions for Distance Learning Models
Online Courses Blended/Hybrid


Web-facilitated Courses
How much content is delivered online? Over 80% of the content is delivered online (Laureate Education, n.d.a). Content partly delivered online (up to %80) and partly delivered face-to-face (Laureate Education, n.d.a). This involves delivery of face-to-face content, but with the addition of utilizing ‘tools of [our] generation to accelerate learning’ and facilitate similar content remotely if desired (Converge, 2012, p.6). Web-facilitated courses do not use one of traditional or online course methods, or even use a hybrid strategy where some content is available remotely and some content available face-to-face. Rather, 100% of the content is delivered face-to-face and in combination with these traditional learning methods, learners can use technology to ‘review the lecture at their own convenience’ (Defour, 2013).
How much separation is there between the learner and the facilitator? The level of separation between learner and facilitator in online learning can be quite high and take many forms: geographical separation, separation in time in the case of asynchronous online education, intellectual separation etc. (Simonson et al (2012), p. 34). Due to the often diverse nature of online classrooms, differences in terms of background, culture and age can be an important factor of separation between the learners themselves that can be more pronounced than in other types of education. These cultural separations also ‘exist between

participants and teachers’ (Hannon & D’Netto, 2007, p.420)

Much the same separations are applicable to blended learning as are applicable to online learning. Blended learning does bridge the gap in geographical and time separations for at least a large chunk of instruction, however, during the face-to-face aspect of the delivery. Web-facilitated courses involve even less separation between the learner and the facilitator than distance and blended education. As explained above, web-facilitated learning is not meant to replace face-to-face learning with distance learning, but rather serve as an additional resource. Therefore, students would need to be in the same location and time as their instructors to attend the face-to-face delivered content.
In what ways is technology used with each model? 


Simonson’s (2012) definition of distance learning states that telecommunications systems are used to ‘connect learners, resources, and instructors’ (p. 32). These telecommunications might merely utilize postal correspondence, but may also involve more sophisticated technologies like the television broadcasts or streaming on the internet. Regardless of the type of technology used, the technology is utilized as the means to connect learners and instructors together, as per Simonson’s definition. Similar to distance learning, hybrid learning utilizes technology to connect learners and facilitators when they are not meeting face-to-face. In hybrid learning this connection of involved parties in a remote way through technology is not as constant as with distance learning as much of the instruction will be face-to-face.  Simonson (2012) mentions that hybrid learning can make use of technology in situations where there are ‘classroom shortages’ that make finding space for face-to-face instruction difficult, or in other situations where the instructor feels that activities where connection through technology occurs in place of face-to-face interaction will be more beneficial to the learning experience (p. 125). Technology is used as a supplement to traditional learning methods to help improve the learning experience. Defour (2013), in his article on ‘flipped classrooms’ (another term for web-facilitated learning) in Wisconsin, gives some good examples of how technology can benefit web-facilitated learning. Students can watch seminars or lectures in their own time so they can ‘can pause and review parts of lectures they don’t understand without stopping an entire class’ (ibid) and they can then use the time in class with their instructors to have a more personalized learning experience where individual problems or issues from the lecture are dealt with
Identify 2-3 pros for each model.  1) The key benefit of online learning is the flexibility it affords its students in terms of time and location. Online learning ‘knows no time zones, and location

and distance are not issues’ for its students, and similarly for instructors, ‘tutoring can be done anytime, anywhere’ (Anderson, 2008, p.17).

2) For educational institutions online learning can be an important revenue driver and means of continuing growth. Having online programmes available to students remote from a campus opens up a new potential student body. Moller (2008) observes that ‘For some institutions, even a

modest distance education program…

could mean the difference between

a budgetary surplus and a loss—especially for

tuition-driven instructional programs’ (p. 66).

1) Flexibility for the students is a benefit in hybrid/blended education. Students who are working and thus perhaps not able to travel to a particular location for study multiple times per week can have their travel requirements eased by a course that is partly offered at a distance.

2) As with online learning, there are also practical advantages for institutions to having courses where not all students are required on site at all times. Simonson points on that if students can take some classes at a distance instead of face-to-face 100% of the time, ‘you don’t need to have as many classroom buildings, you don’t need have as many parking spots, you don’t need to have as many, maybe even, dorm rooms’ (Laureate Education, n.d.b).

1) By enabling work on learning content in the learner’s own time web-facilitated learning encourages students to ‘work off each other and solve problems independently’ (Defour, 2013). To me, this seems to be a strength based on adrogogical assumptions of education. As learners mature, their needs for education can change. As per Knowles (2012), it has been noted that teaching becomes more effective when students are given more responsibility for their own studies, like in web-facilitated learning where learners can be involved with ‘choosing methods and resources’ for their instruction (Knowles, 2012, p. 69).

2) For instructors working with teenage or young-adult learners, using web-facilitated learning can be a way of engaging their students through media that are popular in their age demographic (e.g. Social media, new technologies etc.).

Identify 2-3 cons for each model. 1) Online programmes can sometimes be perceived to lack the same credibility as traditionally-taught programmes. Moller (2008) explains that there is still a certain ‘stigma’ attached to e-learning courses. (p. 68).

2) Online programmes can, when not designed correctly, be ineffective. These poorly designed programmes can end up emphasizing the ‘technology rather than the content and learning opportunities’. Well-designed online learning can, however, be expensive to have developed and implemented (Simonson et al. 2012, p. 126).

1) Hybrid-learning’s great strength of flexibility is, in some ways, undermined by the greater flexibility offered through online learning. Simonson notes that ‘more and more blended courses [are being] converted to an all-online format’ (Simonson et al. 2012, p. 125). Working professionals who study part-time through hybrid learning can remove the need to travel for face-to-face instruction at any time by studying fully online, and for institutions struggling with resources to offer face-to-face instruction, online learning can also be a more effective solution than blended courses.

2) As with online learning, it can be a challenge to correctly implement blended learning course. The challenge is not to merely use telecommunications to make a repository of materials and lectures available online, but to really develop a course where technology is used optimally. Courses offered through a blended format should be done so because they are ‘more productive learning experiences’ (Simonson et al. 2012, p. 125) than merely fully face-to-face learning, and not because they are an unfortunate requirement due to lack of facilities for traditional learning.

1) Many schools may not be ‘able to afford such a hardware investment’ as to provide each learner with a device to access material at school or at home (Converge, 2012, p.5) This could lead to an undesirable situation where web-facilitated learning can only really be optimally utilized by students wealthy enough to be able to take full advantage.

2) This method of study provides students with an opportunity to take more responsibility over their study and become more independent. However, for some learners this level of responsibility might be an impediment rather than an aid to learning. One teacher’s initial experience with web-facilitated learning, as recounted in Defour’s (2013) article was that students reacted to hearing they were to watch a lecture at home by concluding they ‘[didn’t] have any homework’.

What factors need to be considered when implementing each model?


The sometimes ill-perception of online learning in the academic community that is mentioned above has perhaps arisen due to the fact that, often, ‘the potential of electronic delivery

modes has not been fully realized in the implementation of online

courses’ (Anderson, 2008, p.306). Flawed implementations, such as the direct provision of face-to-face content through online means, do not make the most effective use of an online learning model and can damage the reputation of the online learning model. When implementing an online learning model Equivalency Theory should be kept firmly in mind. It states that studies at a distance should not be identical to face-to-face education but that ‘equivalent outcomes… should be expected of leach learner’ (Simonson et al. 2012, p. 52).

It needs to be kept in mind that online learning provides opportunities for students from widely varying backgrounds, nationalities and cultures to study together in an online classroom. Student from different culture will react to online learning differently and this needs to be considered when implementing online learning. For example, Hannon and D’Netto’s research has found that ‘learners from different cultural backgrounds differ in their

ability to work with online learning technologies’ (Hannon & D’Netto, 2007, p.428).

Blended learning, like online learning, needs to be developed and implemented skillfully and professionally. It should be developed with Equivalency Theory as a guiding principle, ensuring that traditional classes are not merely offered in an identical form but at a distance just for the sake of removing some delivery from a face-to-face environment. I believe the key factor to be considered when implementing web-facilitated learning is the learners that will utilize the learning. Learner analysis will be key in the design process to ensure that the instruction to be implemented is something that will benefit the specific individuals it is aimed at. Key considerations within this might include: the level of technology available in the institution, the base level of technology currently accessible to the students personally, the age of the students, the level of maturity of the learners in their approach to education etc.
Which model would best fit in your current organization or learning experience, and why? My work involves advising students on their enrolment into fully online third-level education. However, for education of the actual employees I work with (for example, on the specifics of a new online programme offered by the University) I believe web-facilitated learning would be most effective learning model. During working hours all the employees I work with are based in the same office, so availability for face-to-face learning could easily be arranged. Flexibility in this regard is not an issue. Offering web-facilitated learning would give employees an opportunity to gain a grasp of the content through online presentations before further face-to-face instruction occurs. This would then make the face-to-face instruction itself more effective. The target learners are all adult, working professionals and would have a strong motivation to understand the material to efficiently be able to perform their jobs. This is an ideal demographic for web-facilitated learning as it would ensure that both web-instruction and face-to-face instruction are taken seriously. Finally, the web instruction can be watched back in the future if any queries arise after training is finished.





  • Anderson, T. (2008). Theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Edmonton: AU Press.
  • (2012). “One-to-One 2.0: Building on the “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) Revolution.”
  • Defour, M. (2013, March 18). TRACKING TRENDS : ‘Flipped Classrooms’ Spreading in Wisconsin. Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from
  • Hannon, J., & D’Netto, B. (2007). Cultural Diversity Online: Student Engagement With Learning Technologies. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(5), 418-432.
  • Knowles, Malcolm S., Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson.The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 7th ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2012.
  • Laureate Education. (n.d.a). Theory and distance learning. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from
  • Laureate Education. (n.d.b). Distance education: Higher education, K–12, and the corporate world. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from
  • Moller, Leslie, Wellesley R Foshay, and Jason Huett. (2008). “The Evolution of Distance Education: Implications for Instructional Design on the Potential of the Web.” TechTrends 52 (4), 66-70.
  • Simonson, Michael, Sharon Smaldino, Michael Albright, and Susan Zvacek (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: foundations of distance education. Boston, M.A: Pearson.

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