Question: What is the difference between online, campus, hybrid, and distance learning MSW programs?

Answer: Unfortunately, it depends on how each school uses these specific terms for their MSW degree programs.

With that said, the majority of programs try to use these terms to represent specific types of degree programs. Common terms used to describe Master of Social Work (MSW) programs include: campus MSW programs, online MSW programs, hybrid or blended learning MSW programs, distance learning / education MSW programs, and distributed MSW programs. We will examine each term to make it clear what they typically represent.

  • Campus MSW Programs: These are the most common type of MSW program with over 220 universities offering CSWE accredited MSW programs. These programs can either be full-time where students attend classes on-campus the same way they would for an undergraduate program or part-time where students attend classes at night and/or on the weekends. Some universities even offer campus-based MSW programs at off-campus locations (see distance learning below).
  • Online MSW Programs: For online MSW programs, the majority of instruction is online (except for field education which must be completed at a local health services agency). Students are not required to attend classes on-site. However, some online MSW programs do have an on-campus requirement where students are required to visit the campus, typically once or twice a year. On, we classify any program that requires two or fewer visits to the campus per year as an online program.
  • Hybrid / Blended MSW Programs: Hybrid MSW programs combine on-campus and online instruction. The combination of on-campus and online instruction varies by graduate school. Typically these programs follow one of two formats: 1) individual courses combine on-campus and online instruction where students meet in person a limited number of times each semester or 2) students take both on-campus courses and online courses. For these types of programs, only certain classes may be offered online.
  • Distance Learning / Education MSW Programs: Unfortunately, this term is used to describe many different types of programs and students should reach out to a university if their program structure is not clear. Many early online programs used the term distance learning. Now, the majority of programs that use this term have on-site instruction at an off-campus location. For example, the University of Iowa, School of Social Work offers distance education MSW programs in Des Moines, Quad Cities and Sioux City.
  • Distributed MSW Programs: The term distributed MSW programs is not used as frequently as the terms online or hybrid MSW program. Two schools that do use this term are Humboldt State University and California State University, Chico, both of which are in California. We classify the program at Humboldt State University as an online MSW program as students are only required to attend on-campus instruction once a year for four days. Whereas, we classify the program at Chico State as a hybrid MSW program as students are required to attend on-site classes two weekends a semester.

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