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Essential Guide to Distance Learning in 2024 (+ Tips & Benefits!)

Distance learning is now mainstream worldwide, already on the rise over the last decade, and dramatically expanding since the beginning of 2020.

But is it effective, and does it generate quality results? And what types of distance learning are there? 🤔

This comprehensive essential guide is created for both instructors and students who want to expand their knowledge of distance learning.

We will give you all the ins & outs, tips, and benefits you need to know.

Let’s dive in!

What is Distance Learning

Distance learning refers to the situation where students are not physically present in the classroom.

They are separated from their teacher and other classmates and study (mostly) from home whenever their schedule suits them.

Unlike traditional in-person learning and hybrid courses, distance learning allows online students to follow lessons that are either broadcast, conducted by correspondence like email, or available via an online course platform.

Various technologies can simulate regular school classes and preserve a good quality student-teacher and student-student relationship, which remains ever so important.

Instructors can use audio, video, and computers to bridge the instructional gap.

Distance learning is immensely popular and makes education so much more accessible to the general public.

Types of Distance Learning

1. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is a live video-based interaction between educators and learners.

The uprise of Zoom and MS Teams since the beginning of 2020 shows how effective it can be to teach online and generate results (and even full degrees!) without being physically present—with the help of video conferencing.

It allows multiple people to meet virtually, collaborate, listen to guest lecturers, attend virtual field trips, and record and rewatch a specific lesson.

It is also time-effective and saves on travel money.

Video conferencing prevails over audio conferencing, as seeing each other facilitates more learner engagement and collaborative learning.

Some disadvantages include the lack of face-to-face interaction, the attendee limit, possible extra cost, and it may require a technical support team.

2. Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

distance learning - synchronous and asynchronous learning infographic

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous means simultaneously, so with synchronous learning, all current students must attend virtual class together on a specific day and time.

Classes run in real-time with all attendees present, yet with everyone in different locations.

Usually, this type of virtual training is for courses where all participants go through the learning path simultaneously, with the instructor readily available for student support.

Asynchronous Learning

A self-paced study is an example of asynchronous learning. The instructor can set up a learning path, which students can follow at their own pace, yet under the instructor’s guidance.

Learning can occur in any given time or space, yet it is common practice to include weekly deadlines to keep students on track.

Whether you are the educator or the student, asynchronous learning has many advantages over synchronous learning.

Let’s look at those benefits.

Benefits of Asynchronous Learning

Online meetings may use significant amounts of data, something not every student may have access to. Asynchronous learning doesn’t require such arrangements.

There are also no audio/video issues, as education videos can be recorded up front and watched whenever it suits the learner.

Asynchronous education may give your students the flexibility they need.

When studying at their own pace, they can better deal with busy schedules and other commitments.

3. Open-Schedule Distance Learning

Open-schedule equals ultimate freedom. These courses have no regular deadline, so they are particularly suitable for learners with full-time jobs or stay-at-home parents with young kids.

Open-schedule is an asynchronous form of education, and the institute provides learners with all the resources, textbooks, and any other eLearning content at the beginning of the course.

It’s a valuable format for students who love working independently.

This form of education requires dedication, commitment, and self-discipline, which is why it may not be suitable for everyone.

4. Fixed-Time Distance Learning

Fixed-time is part of the synchronous learning system and has mandatory components.

Fixed-time classes require students to log in and be present at a set day, place, and time-usually the school’s online LMS software, short for learning management system.

It can also be, for example, a scheduled webinar or live chat that students are required to attend.

Fixed-time programs benefit learners who need the extra push of a non-negotiable study timetable.

It is, at this moment, the most common form of remote learning, though it may be less efficient for learners who can’t commit to the school’s immutable schedule.

5. Computer-Based Distance Learning

Video chat, webinar, chat room, digital forum, email, conferencing, and instant messaging are all computer-based communication platforms facilitating remote learning.

It’s the computer replacing the chalkboard.

By using these various distance learning resources, schools can create virtual classrooms where students can learn (a)synchronously—but all from different locations—just by using their computers or mobile devices.

Creating demonstrations, interactive videos, simulations, and online quizzes are all computer-based training content.

6. Hybrid Distance Learning

Hybrid learning (or blended learning) combines face-to-face and online classes to create the best possible learning experience. It integrates technology with instructor-led classroom projects.

With the option to either attend class in person or remotely from home, hybrid learning makes education attainable for students with various learning strategies.

Blended learning gives flexibility in education schedules, instruction modes, and students’ engagement with their teachers and peers.

For teachers, instructing hybrid courses requires some upfront planning since you can offer assignments in various formats, such as a virtual learning module or a physical classroom lesson.

7. Correspondence Courses

Correspondence courses were the beginning of everything that involves remote education and predates the internet.

Studying in a correspondence course is flying solo. All educational material is sent by email or snail mail, as is homework you send in for review and grading.

There’s no regular teacher contact other than by email, and the student initiates communication between student and teacher.

A correspondence course is the ultimate form of independent studying.

What Makes Distance Learning Different?

Let’s look at how distance learning is different from regular learning.

  • Remote studying gives students more freedom when and where learning will take place. They can choose a study time that better fits their location, schedule, and other commitments.
  • The downside of all the freedom is that it requires more discipline than taking in-person classes. Students need to master self-motivation when following online courses.
  • In regular education, the location where classes are held is not a free choice, and geographical location may not suit the student. In contrast, eLearning allows students to learn from whatever place they prefer, as long as there’s a working internet connection.
  • Because everyone, including the teacher, is at different locations, interaction also differs from traditional school. Seeing each other online in class via computer screens generates another chemistry and interaction. Distance education relies more on messaging apps, online discussion boards, and video conferencing.
  • The traditional setup of in-person schools allows a free flow of open communication between students and teachers. However, constructive communication or lively discussions in online learning always require the help of technology, which may downgrade some effectiveness.
  • Online courses are dependent on technology resources, whereas traditional education only requires some physical basics such as tables, chairs, and textbooks.

Benefits of Distance Learning

1. Distance Learning is Flexible

Flexibility is by far the most significant benefit of any distance education program.

Whether being a stay-at-home parent, working full time, or whatever other daily commitments, enrolling in online courses allows students to study and earn a degree at their own pace.

Continuous access to the study material gives time to absorb the information and review it again when needed.

Attending a traditional school requires more concentration since lessons are usually explained only once.

Customizing your learning to suit your needs is highly appealing, as you can maximize your potential while keeping control over your own schedule.

2. Distance Learning is Accessible

For distance learners who cannot attend conventional classes daily or even regularly due to personal circumstances, a physical disability, or geographical location, distance education gives them full access to professional development, irrespective of their situation.

World-class universities like Cambridge, Harvard, and Oxford already offer access to high-quality online courses.

Distance learning makes earning a qualification, certificate, Bachelor or Master’s degree from major schools worldwide within reach for everyone.

A student’s life path may not correlate with a traditional classroom schedule, and not committing to an exact school year is a huge benefit.

3. Distance Learning is Affordable

Operating an online program requires only a fraction of the regular overhead and infrastructure costs.

The more students, the more staff, and inevitably, the more expensive traditional face-to-face education becomes.

After all, you can only have so many students in a physical classroom.

Online programs are not affected by these limitations, making the low-cost option of following an online course more affordable than regular education.

This can be particularly beneficial for students with financial limitations who simply can’t afford to go abroad and study on campus.

Online education only requires suitable hardware and software and an active internet connection, resources they generally do have access to.

4. Distance Learning Encourages Personal Responsibility

Study freedom is a blessing, but it comes with the need for strict self-discipline.

Online learners must possess the ability to make themselves do things even when they don’t want to.

distance learning - picture of woman from behind meditating

Teachers are on hand in online training for help and inquiries, though not like they are in traditional learning environments, where there’s immediate feedback or consequences for unfinished homework.

Online learning forces students to manage their time and tasks carefully.

However, the personal responsibility it acquires is a life-long skill that will benefit the learner well beyond their study life.

🤓 Pro Tip: Check out our guide on how to be a better learner. 🧐

5. Distance Learning is Adaptable

No student is the same. They come in with different backgrounds, skill sets, and a different set of learning styles.

Some students are visually orientated, while others prefer listening to audio. Some are real solo players, while others thrive learning in groups.

And what about learners with dyslexia or ADHD.

Simplifying the course directions and breaking assignments down into bite-sized chunks may aid course participants with a learning disability.

Online learning opens up various possibilities for the presentation of training materials and can be easily adapted to cater to students’ individual needs.

[Editor's Note: for more information about how people learn, don't miss our post about the learning process!]

6. Distance Learning Allows You To Keep Your Day Job

When taking your career to the next level depends on higher education or new degree accomplishments, distance education can provide it without quitting your job.

distance learning - Season 9 Nbc GIF by The Office

Expanding your skills and knowledge to get a promotion or pay raise doesn’t have to cost the traditional years of keeping a classroom seat warm.

Years you could have spent working full time, earning money to support yourself and your family.

Giving a boost to your career without losing your job, finding extra daycare, or wasting time commuting is provided by the flexibility of continued education in online learning.

7. Distance Learning Fosters Interactive Experiences

Who can’t remember the field trips they took as a child and adolescent?

They are a vital component of education and a key part of the school experience. Not only for learning but also team building.

Virtual field trips are the solution for distance learning courses. Instructors who facilitate an online class should not underestimate the power it brings to student engagement.

In traditional classroom education, these trips were limited to the local library or other local facilities.

Virtual trips, though, are limitless. They're not only inexpensive and quick to organize, but they can also transport students virtually to locations all over the world.

Alternative field trip examples include:

Disadvantages of Distance Learning

  • Difficulty staying motivated. For some, not having to sit in an actual classroom is their favorite form of bliss. However, distance learning does require motivation and discipline from within to get the assignments done on time.
  • Building relationships with peers is challenging, and feeling isolated could be the consequence.
  • It requires access to a computer and a good quality internet connection to follow the course effectively.
  • Learners don’t always get the immediate feedback they’re looking for. They must wait for the teacher to value their contribution and send the feedback by email or message board.
  • Taking online proctored exams may bring extra stress since there are external factors you need to worry about, such as background noise and IT problems during your exam.

For Learners: Distance Learning System

To enjoy your distance education programs to the fullest, here are some features to look for:

1. Make Sure Your Distance Learning System is User Friendly

You don’t need complexity in your life, so ease of use is essential.

Your distance learning system should include a simple interface and essential features like digital whiteboards, screen recording, and compatibility with multiple devices.

Also, think about how the system deals with student-teacher and student-student communication.

Does it offer live chat, a classroom messaging feature, regular video-conferencing, or even in-person meetings?

2. Accreditation

Check upfront whether your distance learning program provides the necessary accreditations.

In other words, can you earn certificates and recognized degrees? Or maybe all they offer are certificates of completion.

Determine what the purpose of your study is, and see if it matches the school’s accreditation.

Do your research upfront to avoid any unwanted surprises.

3. Does it Fit Your Schedule?

This is not about a specific platform feature but merely about how and if the course fits your daily life schedule.

Distance learning generally offers excellent flexibility but can still interfere with your personal schedule.

Is it asynchronous or merely synchronous? How long will the course take? Are there any (impossible) deadlines? Do your due diligence before signing up.

For Instructors: Building a Course

1. Create a welcome video

It can break the ice, and it’s great for building those first connections. Consider including the first call to action.

2. Make an introductory video for your course

Display a short and engaging taste of the course and include its objective, important dates, and contact information.

3. Provide weekly updates and reminders

Weekly contact is a way to give updates, answer questions, and enter new reminders for the week ahead.

4. Bring in guest speakers and experts

Introducing experts with insider knowledge adds value to the topic. A great way to do this is via synchronous live meetings.

5. Give meaningful feedback

Providing feedback in distance education can be a challenge. Think about recording feedback videos or leaving constructive comments online.

6. Participate in Learning

Support your students by participating in the student discussion boards, and comment on their posts. They will appreciate it.

Is Distance Learning Here to Stay?

Digitalization catapulted online learning forward, and even though living on campus will never cease to exist, distance learning will only expand further.

Distance learning throws a world of new possibilities at your feet, and experts predict that many learning institutes will never fully return to in-person learning.

Don’t stay behind; join the digital education revolution now!

Loes Kotoun is an elated Smart Blogger Certified Content Marketing writer on a mission to make her writing the answer to your content prayers. She sprinkles fairy dust over SEO-friendly words so your business can set foot in the spotlight. Connect with her on LinkedIn or visit her writer profile.