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What is Distance Learning?

During the unprecedented COVID era, schools, colleges, and universities transitioned from face-to-face instruction to distance learning. Distance learning now allows students to work from wherever they have internet access. Our digitally connected world has morphed distance education and made it synonymous with online learning. Modern learners can receive instruction through online classes, video conferencing, or video recordings. It is possible to learn just as much away from the formal classroom setting as being face-to-face in the same classroom as teachers and students.

Types of Distance Learning Programs

  • Synchronous learning allows learners and teachers to join in real-time in an online setting. Distance is not a barrier, but you should be cognizant of your schedule and class times to ensure you can attend and participate. While you are able to see, hear, and interact with your teacher and peers, teachers have the ability to easily modify the course of study to meet the needs and understanding of the students in the class. While this can be helpful to some students, it can be frustrating for others who desire more freedom to complete their learning at their own pace. Synchronous learning takes the classroom to an online sphere yet still has many similarities to traditional classroom learning paired with technological benefits. 
  • Asynchronous learning is best suited for students with unconventional hours and schedules. Asynchronous courses allow you to learn when it is most convenient for you and your learning materials can be accessed at any time. Faculty can create and upload course materials and you are responsible to complete assignments, quizzes, or projects within a specific deadline. Instructors can be reached through Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or emails to assist when needed, but much of the learning rests on your shoulders. This self-paced learning structure can accommodate various learning needs and preferences while enhancing student success. You may refer back to the content of the course as you complete assignments, discussions, and study for exams. Students work at their own pace, and you are required to be motivated to complete the course. 
  • Hybrid Learning allows students the benefits of partial in-person instruction and partial online learning. Online learning may include recorded interactive sessions that can be watched at a later time. This gives students the freedom to complete the assignments within a given time frame. As students move through pre-created modules, they gain access to new information and modules. There are fixed deadlines with assignments, discussions, and quizzes that can be accessed online. Students who thrive on independence yet desire some structure to their learning succeed in the hybrid learning model. 

Learning Environment

Equipment Needed

When it comes to participating in a modern distance learning environment, you will need to be prepared with the necessary tools. Many online courses have technology requirements to ensure you have the best possible experience as you learn. Some of the tech requirements you encounter may be as follows:

  • A solid internet connection-your institution may have a particular download or upload speed they are looking for
  • A reliable computer-older computers tend to run slower and may be unable to handle more current technology, so ideally, your computer should not be older than five years
  • The correct software-your school may prefer a certain internet browser and or file storage to ensure assignments and other documents can be accessed by all and depending on your field of study, you may be required to have access to specific software programs (which are often made available through course materials or part of your fees)
  • A reliable web camera and microphone-if you are in a synchronous program, this will be especially important to help you communicate with your teachers and peers; asynchronous programs may require you to film yourself or explain a process

Traditional Education vs. Online Education

Traditional education with a teacher in front of a classroom surrounded by students studying and learning has been the socially accepted norm for a long time. With the recent push in online education, teachers and students have learned what it takes for a course to be successful in the online sphere. 

In traditional face-to-face classrooms, motivation and discipline comes from the group setting of the structured timetable. Teachers instruct and present information to students who are expected to be present in order to receive the learning and to participate in the discussions. The social aspect of face-to-face learning allows for informal discussions as well as group work. 

Online education allows students to learn in whatever environment is available as long as there is an internet connection. Students are no longer solely bound to learning directly from the instructor but can easily access high-quality information that has been designed with academically proven strategies. In online classes, you may have the opportunity to work with and learn from others all over the world. Online meetups and virtual classes can help build and foster the classroom community, as well as discussion board posts and responses can assist in building high-level conversations around the topics being presented. 

Distance Learning Opportunities 

Higher Education

Learners no matter their age or location now can pursue their educational dreams or just enjoy learning about a subject they love. Distance learning provides learning opportunities for professional and personal development. Universities have created online programs for professional qualifications and certification. Busy students, parents, and workers can use e-learning opportunities to work at their own pace. The flexibility allows students to handle the many responsibilities that are outside their learning or training requirements. No longer do you need to be located on a university campus or in a large city to receive a high-quality education. Many colleges and universities have online courses and programs to advance your learning, no matter where you are located or what part of life you find yourself in. 


When you upskill, you can enhance your existing skills and build upon those skills to provide more value to your company. Businesses can reduce costs by utilizing online learning for their teams. Upskilling a workforce can also increase agility and fuel innovation to eager employees who receive interactive and engaging online training that can be directly applied to the work at hand. This consistent and perpetual learning can be critical in continuing to be successful wherever you are. 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are online-delivered classes that are focused on a particular topic and typically have an unlimited enrollment cap making them available to anyone. Some universities (such as Stanford, MIT, and Harvard, to name a few) and companies develop pre-recorded video lessons, readings, assessments, and discussion forums for MOOCs. Some MOOCs are self-paced while others run on a particular schedule and range from 1-16 weeks. Most courses will share an estimated weekly time commitment, but you should realize the actual time will vary learner to learner. Instructors do not grade your work in a MOOC, but you may have auto-graded quizzes or peer-feedback assignments. Your performance on these quizzes and assignments will determine your overall course grade or score. While you may be taking courses that are offered at major universities or institutions, you will typically have to pay some sort of fee to receive a certificate for your learning. 

Cost of Distance Learning 

When you are taking courses online, the overall cost will typically be less than a face-to-face course. Remember, costs will vary by institution, but each course will have a cost per credit hour if you are seeking a diploma or certificate. When it comes down to it, the cost of online courses will have to include your broadband internet, your computer (which you may be able to rent from the school for a fee), an online learning fee, and books. Compared to a student attending a college or university for the in-person instruction, they may have to pay for housing, a meal plan, a parking permit, transportation costs, books, and other costs that quickly add up. 

If you are looking to subsidize your online program with financial aid, make sure your program is eligible for financial aid by the U.S. Department of Education so you can take advantage of federal financial aid. Check your school’s website to ensure your school and program is eligible for federal aid. You can check to see if your intended school has a federal school code for federal student aid eligibility. If your school has a federal school code, ask your financial aid office about your eligibility for federal student aid for your intended program of study. 

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