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As the number of online learners across the globe continues to rise, and online technology and learning resources improve, it is safe to say that online learning is here to stay. However, evolving definitions and terms can lead to confusion. This guide should help you to understand online and distance learning so that you can make an informed decision when choosing an online (or offline) degree programme that suits you.

What is distance education?

Distance education traces its origins to the mid-19th century using up-to-date technology of the time: the postal system.

Learning conducted via correspondence courses provided people living remotely with access to education without the need for face-to-face contact with a lecturer or teacher in a classroom.

As technology has advanced, distance learning has broadened out. Today it covers everything from online degree programmes to courses delivered by CD-ROM & DVD, email, radio, video conference, mobile vans, labs and more.

Synchronous vs asynchronous learning

Distance education models fall into the categories of synchronous or asynchronous learning. Synchronous means “at the same time”. This type of learning involves live communication – for example, attending a webinar, chatting online or teleconferencing. Asynchronous means “not at the same time” and this type of learning gives students more freedom to communicate at times that suit them – for example, by sending emails or posting comments in an online discussion forum or virtual classroom.

With asynchronous learning, students are able to download reading, video and audio material and conduct their research in their own time. They may still have deadlines to meet but these can be fixed in their own time zone.

What is online learning?

Online learning is distance education that is made available through an internet connection. Due to this mode of delivery, online learning can be made accessible worldwide.

Students who have access to a PC and internet connection can pursue an online degree, choosing from a range of learning models and programmes to suit their lifestyle and working schedule.

Online learning can be synchronous and/or asynchronous. In many cases, asynchronous online learning – with its greater flexibility – provides the perfect alternative to campus-based study for busy working professionals.

Case Study: The University of Liverpool Online

The University of Liverpool provides a highly collaborative, 100% online learning experience, setting it apart from other universities. Studying in small groups in a virtual classroom with professionals from all over the world, University of Liverpool Online students enjoy an asynchronous approach to learning. All deadlines are set in the learner’s local time zone and there are no fixed times when the student has to be online.

As well as feedback from their peers, students – who are mostly working professionals – receive feedback and grades on their assignments from a faculty member throughout each module of their degree programme. Students are also graded on their participation in the online classroom as well as on the academic rigour and quality of their assignments and research. Although there are no exams, ongoing assessment ensures that students meet the University’s high standards in order to earn their degree.

Students who have successfully completed their online studies are awarded their degree directly by the University of Liverpool with the same validity and credibility as a campus equivalent.

Online learning for the modern world

Distance education has come a long way since its inception, giving rise to modern online education that opens up new possibilities for learning that fits the 21st century. With the aid of online educational technology, working professionals around the world can now earn an advanced university degree without interrupting their career.

Asynchronous online learning, in particular, offers working professionals a viable alternative to traditional campus courses. A top ranked university, the University of Liverpool offers fully online postgraduate degree programmes that are both asynchronous and highly collaborative – setting them apart from others. Students from over 160 countries connect in small virtual classrooms, exchanging best practice and gaining insights into real-world issues.

Through lively online discussions, research – using the University’s extensive online library – guidance and feedback from peers and faculty members, students gain knowledge and skills that are directly applicable in the workplace. They can then return to the collaborative online classroom and share their practical learning experiences with fellow students located across the world.

It’s a highly interactive approach to online learning, designed to help working professionals move ahead both personally and professionally in an interconnected world.

Find out more about the University of Liverpool’s online programmes and see if an online degree could help you move ahead in your world.

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