What is distance learning? Definition and Meaning

What is distance learning? Definition and Meaning
Distance education is when learners listen to lectures, complete tasks, and communicate with teachers without offline physical contact with them. There are many forms, approaches, and realization methods, and we’ll review them here.

Various tasks and conditions require various approaches to education. Education for schools and universities, scientific, personal, and businesses are very different. Here we’ll overview various types, but with the focus on corporate education as our primary objective. Let’s start with the general overview of distance education and then continue with its advantages, peculiarities, and implementation.

What is distance education?

Education is the directed knowledge exchange, leading to the acquisition of new concepts, ideas, and skills. It’s required to understand how to do something or how some part of the world works. Various branches of science explore different parts of the world: physics and chemistry show how the world functions at different levels, while engineering disciplines teach how actually to work with various mechanisms to change the world.

This is a brief introduction to education in general, to understand the distance learning meaning: transmit knowledge efficiently and remotely. As we’ll see, such an approach can be highly beneficial, as it enables people to learn without attending classes and using efficient schedules comfortable for them.

Therefore, the distance learning definition is transferring some knowledge via the digital medium, with task assignments, checking, and communication for feedback and discussions.

Such an approach to education has many pros and cons, and depending on your purpose, it can be applied to a more or lesser extent. We believe that all companies and institutions can benefit from it: you can check our articles about blended learning and microlearning to see various approaches to implement distance learning elements for the company. You can combine it with offline learning, making corporate education remote where possible, saving time and money greatly.

As follows, efficient distance learning requires various resources for it. At first, there should be various learning materials, including books, infographics, videos, simulations, and tests. Learners also should complete their tasks to reinforce knowledge and apply it in practice, obtaining a measurable result. In addition, there should be a platform for learning organization, a learning management system (LMS) that will facilitate communication, information exchange, project management, learning and work monitoring, and learner motivation. Last but not least, the management should be proficient in learning process organization, so it’s important to master materials connected with it, too.

Distance learning can greatly improve the organization's functionality. So, let’s overview its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and disadvantages of distance learning

Distance learning can solve many educational problems.
So, let’s position some benefits of distance learning to see how it improves learning processes
Comfort and convenience
of remote education follow from its accessibility from any part of the Earth where there is the Internet. Learning from home, at any convenient time, is certainly pleasurable.
Interconnectedness and flexibility
mean that all learning materials, such as videos, books, and interactive quizzes, are easily accessible in the learning platform at all times. In addition, everyone is connected via it and can communicate with each other. So, it enables the creation of individual and efficient learning journeys, saving time, and providing the best experience to learners.
here is limited only by the platforms’ possibilities and includes such motivation tools as rewards, ratings, and gamification during the learning journeys. The well-known language learning app Duolingo, for example, turns learning into an exciting game with rewards, characters, and competition between learners, who are also players here.
of distance education can be done via various management tools, such as task planners and event schedulers, which are often embedded into the learning management platform. You can check CleverLMS features to see examples of such instruments.
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages that need to be considered when implementing distance education. Some of them can be overcome by proper organization, but not all learning activities can be made remote. Let’s overview examples of these disadvantages
can be the result of a lack of physical contact and, therefore, misunderstanding during conversations. While it’s easier to organize using digital platforms, its quality heavily depends on the proper organization. Therefore, it’s very important to set clear expectations, terms, and deadlines to be sure that everything will be correct during the work and learning activities.
Isolation is a natural consequence of distance education, and while we often want to be alone for some time, in the case of fully remote education it can become a problem, reducing life quality and learning efficiency. So, while implementing it, it’s especially important to pay attention to learners’ state and communicate with them openly about their condition.
Remote learning limitations
are inevitable due to its nature: you obviously cannot do and learn anything from your home. For example, you cannot drive vehicles and operate various engines from your laptop. You need to be in place for such activities, so, they cannot be made fully remote. However, distance education can help here, too. For example, you can access learning resources right from your smartphone while operating an engine, and learning during work.
With all advantages of distance learning, it can make education much more convenient and engaging. Its disadvantages are rooted in organization difficulties and inherent limitation, and if they’re considered, they can be overcome. It’s especially relevant for business environment, as companies should maintain their employees’ skills high to be competitive and efficient.

Types of distance learning

Let’s now specify types of distance education to see various approaches to it, so you can understand which of them suits you best.
  • Live video conferences
    include lectures and seminars during which learners can interact with a teacher, asking questions.
  • Recorded courses
    can be used to train specific skills or teach specific concepts. Learners can use additional materials or contact teachers/mentors in direct messages to ask questions and leave feedback.
  • Blended learning
    is the combination of online educational materials and offline practice to reinforce and apply knowledge. It’s especially good for business environments, where employees can learn how to use various tools and apply work practices.
  • Microlearning 
    includes the delivery of small educational videos, infographics, and interactive tasks directed to teach some specific skill or concept without any excessive information. Similarly, it’s highly efficient for companies that need their employees to master some set of skills quickly.
Therefore, different types of distance learning are suited for different educational scenarios. All of them can be applied in various settings. Let’s learn more about these settings.
Synchronous distance learning
For some cases, the best approach is to learn according to a clear plan. When learners should master some specific skills and obtain specific results, a learning management can create such a plan, with required tasks tha should be completed, so all learners will follow it.

Therefore, synchronous distance education is organized according to a clear schedule, and all its tasks has deadlines which shouldn’t be missed. It’s the common form of learning organization in schools and universities and it also often used by companies, when they need to increase the qualification of their employees. 
Asynchronous distance learning
If there’re no clear deadlines, but the company’s management wants to maintain employees’ skills high, then it’s possible to apply self-pased education, when learners should watch some video and other materials and pass various tasks. No fixed plans and deadlines are used here, and learners can choose their pace based on their desires and needs.

Thus, asynchronous distance education is more relaxed and enables self-organization. It’s flexible, as management, teachers, and learners can change their schedules according to their own needs and so become much less tired while learning more efficiently.
However, it’s also much less immersive, and learners may face procrastination and a lack of motivation in general to end the course, both in universities and corporate environments. To prevent them, this approach should deal with motivation and interactivity, ensuring proper communication with learners and their engagement.

Distance learning vs. online learning

Distance learning is usually online, so we use this term in conjunction with online learning. However, there are differences, as distance learning’s aims and objectives are not always similar to online learning. The latter is based on the direct connection between teacher and students and a specific learning curriculum, while the former is grounded on specific learning materials to teach specific tasks and concepts. These aims have much in common, but they are nevertheless different. Let’s see the short table to compare.
  • Distance learning

    Is often based on self-education using educational materials and resources.

    Intended to master some skills and often consists of specific theoretic and practical modules.

    Can have clear schedules and deadlines and be self-paced, depending on the conditions, work connected with the education, and which skills should be mastered.
  • Online learning

    Is based on online communication with teachers.

    Intended to teach some discipline and consists of large live courses with exams at the end.

    Usually has a clear learning program that must be followed by students, with completing tasks and passing exams, so it’s more formal.
Online distance education includes the usage of various platforms: learning management systems (LMSs) and educational websites, such as Coursera and Udemy. Depending on the purpose,

The difference between distance and online education is quite subtle, and these terms are often used interchangeably. Distance education is more universal and based on the usage of various educational materials to master some skills and concepts necessary for specific work. So, it’s common in corporate education, where companies need their workers to master some skills and maintain their competency. Online education is usual for schools, universities, and other educational facilities, which have their learning programs and issue degrees to those who pass them.

How to choose a distance learning system

Where does all of this take place?
Online education requires a platform to be hosted. While there are services like Udemy, companies need their own corporate platform to organize education processes. Distance learning tools organize and automatize learning processes, serving as a hub for information exchange. Without it, it’s hard to coordinate all employees, workflows, and educational materials.

So, a good distance learning platform always has project management elements, such as a task planner, to set clear deadlines and organize learners, be they students in the university or workers in the company. It’ll connect learners together and assign them according to their tasks and responsibilities, ensuring that they’ll complete them. Motivational elements, such as ratings and interactive courses, will ensure immersion and increase the rate of course completion.

How to choose the best distance learning program for you? As always, the best one is the one that fulfills your current purpose: no more, no less. Some of them have many features but are quite clumsy and expensive. Others are small, efficient, and highly customizable according to your needs. Thirds have advanced features to generate educational content. Which features do you need, and which are excessive? We’ll overview several examples, so you’ll make your choice easier.

Top-10 best software for distance learning

Let’s wrap the article by comparing the ten distance learning solutions in our top list. Here we’ll show briefly for which purposes each tool is the best.
is a universal, simple-to-install LMS with robust project management tools and a mobile app. Our product can easily be customized for the needs of any customer, including the branding and selecting only necessary features.
is an advanced LMS with features such as generative AI and extensive monitoring tools. It’s good for middle-sized companies, especially those working in knowledge-intensive industries.
is similar to Absorb in many ways, despite it being slightly cheaper, has fewer features, and is easier to install. So, it’s good for small and medium hi-tech enterprises.
has simple course builder features and can be used for employee onboarding and orientation, so it’s good for small and medium enterprises, especially those offline-based.
Docebo Learning Suite
is among the most complex and expensive apps for distance learning. It has numerous features: from content generation to extensive analytics about various companies’ processes, so it’s the best choice for large corporations.
iSpring Learn
is based on corporate processes optimization and automatization, so it’s oriented on middle-size business, especially those of them with high staff turnover.
Adobe Learning Manager
is a pard of Adobe Cloud and is well-suited for companies that should provide educational materials for their customers to boost sales.
is a universal LMS with virtual classrooms, a course builder, and a good interface for learning task management. However, it’s best suited for schools and colleges, where teachers need to manage their students.
similarly, is more suited for educational institutions, especially for higher education: it has a course builder and enables communication inside the learning group. It’s often embedded into universities’ websites, as it’s good to manage large numbers of students on a single platform.
is a free distance learning technology that is often used by education institutions and open-source projects and is also good for personal education. However, as it lacks proper support and project management features, it isn’t a good choice for corporate learning.

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