At the risk of killing the entire article by giving a clue to the answer to this question right at the start, the difference is simple and contained in the title.
Online courses are undertaken and delivered through an internet connection, while correspondence courses operate through – well – correspondence. Post. Mail. Snail mail.
The former gives instant access, while the latter is like the old steamship travel or pony express. Slow and, for some, laborious and perhaps frustrating. The same applies to eventual qualification.
There are, however, accompanying corollaries to both that are not quite as obvious to pick up initially.
The ready and fast internet access available in most homes today has enabled much education to be conducted almost entirely online. This has been particularly useful during the global Covid 19 pandemic. Lectures, assignments and tutor interaction, and even tests or exams can all be completed remotely through digital platforms.
Correspondence courses and distance learning are the two most popular types of online education. While they’re similar in many ways, there are a few major distinctions between them, including delivery, pacing, and interaction between tutors and learners.
Perhaps the biggest difference between correspondence courses and distance learning is in the way course materials are delivered.
Correspondence course providers send out learning materials either by post to the learners’ home address. More recently correspondence schools have also delivered materials via email (typically in Portable Document Format – PDF).
Online or distance learning providers usually enable access through a secure online ‘portal’ prior to the start of the course. Some ‘drip feed’ their students to control the pace of learning, while others (such as EducateQA) make the entire course content available from the start of the course.
This latter method is generally preferred by learners and students, because they can control the pace at which they learn. Learners can skip through units, concepts or subjects with which they are already familiar, and spend more time on those less familiar or more difficult to grasp.
As both types of course are essentially studied remotely, they share the fact that studying can be a somewhat lonely and isolated way to learn a new skill or gain a qualification.
In the case of true correspondence courses, even tutor contact is limited and slow; when an assignment is submitted by post, the student may wait weeks to receive feedback before they move on to the next.
With distance learning, particularly when communication is through a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or portal, feedback is generally received in hours or days rather than weeks. A big plus.
Additionally, some distance learning providers use the full capabilities of a VLE to facilitate more engagement with staff, tutors, and even a student community where peer support from students on the same course can be invaluable. It’s a much more immersive and ‘natural’ experience.
EducateQA is such a learning provider. Its VLE is truly remarkable; it has been tested and ‘battle-hardened’ by successfully delivering support and encouragement on all courses even during the pandemic and through multiple government lockdowns.