For over two hundred years, distance learning has been a means of gaining education for those who, for whatever reason, elect to study from their home. Beginning with the first correspondence courses that were offered through advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and later also marketed on the backs of matchbook covers, through to the vast amount of distance learning opportunities currently offered by both universities and by independent schools, the chance to broaden ones knowledge without having to attend a physical school has offered academic independence to millions of students of all ages, across all areas of study.
Regardless of what the program is, and what sort of education it provides, whether it is a home school for children in middle school, a specialized upgrade class for someone in a trade or a masters program, distance learning can be broken into two mostly separate, but sometimes overlapping categories: online courses and correspondence classes.
Correspondence courses, which are the traditional method of providing distance education, make use of the postal system to distribute learning materials to the student. While there is usually a firm final date by which all activities and assignments must be completed and handed in, the actual course scheduling is left open, for the student to design according tot their needs. Correspondence courses may make use of materials that use technology, such as learning videos, and students nowadays typically use a computer for word processing and more often than not, for submitting their work via email as well, traditional correspondence courses do not rely upon technology for distribution or actual work completion or submission. Student study and work independently, even though there are likely to be many other students studying the same program. Group assignments and classes are not part of this type of distance learning, as a rule.
Conversely, online courses have a tendency to be presented to a group of students at one time, in a virtual classroom model. Through the use of computer technology, online live real-time virtual classrooms present the material and lessons to students in a group, and forums and programs are in place to all discourse and discussion between students, who can and are encouraged to work together. As classes are not independent, the schedule is far tighter than that found in correspondence classes, which keeps the group learning and advancing together.