The Difference Between Correspondence Courses And Distance Learning

With the expanded access to home internet in recent decades, remote education has evolved to be entirely online. Lectures, assignments, and tests can all be completed remotely through digital platforms. Two of the most popular types of online education include correspondence courses and distance learning. While they’re similar in many ways, there are a few major distinctions between the two, including delivery, pacing, and interaction between instructors and students.


One big difference between correspondence courses and distance learning is the delivery of course material. In correspondence courses, learning materials are provided by the school to the students prior to the start of the course. In the past, before the internet, these materials (usually textbooks and workbooks) were mailed to students’ homes. But with the expansion of the internet, course materials are either emailed to students or made accessible through an online portal. And thanks to the internet, course materials have evolved from solely printed materials to include videos, audio recordings, interactive websites, and more.

In distance learning, the majority of the course material is delivered by the instructor, rather than self-taught by the student. Students attend a lecture style session and follow along with the instructor’s presentation. Instead of receiving learning materials in the beginning and being expected to teach themselves from provided material like in correspondence courses, students in distance learning courses are taught incrementally by instructors, much like in in-person classes.


Correspondence courses are self-paced. Students receive the materials needed for the course and complete assignments on their own time. There may be deadlines that assignments need to be submitted by, but students are generally granted a lot of flexibility in when they spend time on school work.

Distance learning, on the other hand, typically has set times for when lecture is taking place and students are expected to be in attendance. In fact, in many cases, attendance is tracked and factored into a student’s grade. Similar to an in-person class, every student taking the course is on the same timeline for assignments and exams, and they will all finish the program at the same time.


The biggest difference between correspondence courses and distance learning, as noted by recent updates to distance education guidelines by the Department of Education, is the level of engagement and interaction between instructors and their students and students and their classmates.

Because correspondence courses are typically self-paced, there is very limited interaction between the instructor and students. The few times that they communicate with each other is when the instructor provides feedback on an assignment, or if the instructor answers a student’s question via email. In addition, peer to peer interaction is hardly a component to correspondence courses. Because correspondence courses are self-paced, students can be at different stages of the course at any given time. One of the only ways that students in correspondence courses do interact with one another, however, is by contributing to discussion boards.

In distance learning, however, the interaction between instructors and students is much more frequent and can happen in real-time. During real-time instruction, students can ask questions, participate in polls and assessments, and even contribute to discussions with their classmates. With the many engagement tools available, distance learning gives instructors many options to engage with their students in real time and provide opportunities for peer to peer engagement, too.

In Conclusion

Distance learning is typically made up of live, synchronous courses that include substantive interaction and engagement between instructors and students. Correspondence courses are typically asynchronous courses where students are provided with materials to learn at their own pace with limited interaction between them and the instructor.

Both types of courses have their pros and cons. No matter which type your school decides is best for your students, CourseKey makes it easy to run them successfully. To learn how, request a demo below.

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