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Difference Between Correspondence & Distance Education

by Amma Marfo , studioD

An increasingly connected society has done wonders for our ability to bring education into our homes. Those with busy schedules or limited resources have access to unprecedented learning opportunities. But with a variety of options can come confusion. As you search for educational opportunities, you'll likely see references to "correspondence" education, as well as "distance" education. Each has unique attributes that you'll want to consider as you decide which instructional path to take.


Correspondence education is actually the earliest form of distance education. It began in Britain in the 1830s, and then moved to America in the 1870s as a means to offer education to women inside their homes. It was delivered primarily through the mail, and it's still often delivered that way. However, the advent of electronic transmission through platforms like email and course management systems like Blackboard has expanded our ability to deliver education from afar. In general, correspondence is considered a form of distance education, but with a few key differences.


Distance and correspondence education differ in the pacing with which you can take classes in two ways. First, correspondence courses are primarily asynchronous, or "not in real time," in nature. Assignments are sent to the student, and they are completed and sent back. Comparatively, distance courses can be asynchronous, or synchronous through the use of online chats or videoconferencing software. Second, distance courses generally run concurrent with a semester, trimester or quarter system, with a finite amount of time to complete courses. Correspondence courses are less stringent on time, and students can complete coursework at their own pace. Consider this pair of differences as you select which route you'll take.

Instructor Interaction

Another key difference between correspondence courses and distance education pertains to the interaction between students and instructors. The Department of Education defines a correspondence course as one to be completed with limited interaction between the instructor and the student. Interaction in a distance course, however, is expected to be on par with what a student could receive in a traditional classroom course. More is expected from instructors of distance courses, including comfort with the platform and consistency with one's standard teaching style. As you decide which is right for you, consider your own self-directedness as a learner and what you need to succeed.

Things to Consider

Both correspondence and distance education have the ability to provide unprecedented opportunities to students looking for a way to learn from afar. As you decide which method works best for you, think about how much time you can devote to your studies, if you will be working while you take classes and how much encouragement and guidance you'll need from an instructor or professor. All of these factors will make a difference in your decision to embark on one of the two instructional paths. Both methods are equally viable ways for you to continue your education.

About the Author

Amma Marfo is a Boston-area higher education professional and writer. She also writes for The Niche Movement, Talking Points Memo, and her personal site, The Dedicated Amateur.

Photo Credits

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