What's the difference between Online Learning and Distance Learning Blog Feature
Sarah Layton

By: Sarah Layton on September 3rd, 2013

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What's the difference between Online Learning and Distance Learning

online learning | Distance Learning

What is the difference between online learning and distance learning? In the early days of online learning tools, you could pretty much use the terms online learning and distance learning interchangeably. Not so today. Online learning and distance learning no longer mean the same thing.

CTE Online Learning

Online learning and online learning tools simply means that the source of the tool you and your students are using is Web-based or cloud-based. In other words, you access the tool via the Internet. It is anytime, anywhere, which certainly includes working from home. But that is not it's primary function. Rather, it's a bonus.

Instead, online learning tools are typically a staple of a blended learning environment. Online learning tools are more often used IN the classroom during class time. Not for the entire class time, mind you... No matter how interactive and media-rich your online learning tool is, who wants to stare at a computer screen for 45 minutes straight? As part of a blended learning environment, students use online learning for a portion of class time just as they might also engage in class discussion, skills practice, lecture, and projects.

Distance Learning in Post Secondary

Distance learning relies on online learning. That is true. But the concept is completely different. Merriam-webster.com defines distance learning as "education that takes place via electronic media linking instructors and students who are not together in a classroom."

Wikipedia makes the distinction that "distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including taking examinations) have been referred to as hybrid or blended courses of study." The distinction? If any part of your course requires face time with a student, it's NOT distance learning.

Difference between Online Learning and Distance Learning

So you can see that both online learning and distance learning require similar online learning tools, but there the similarity ends. Distance learning is more about the geography. Online learning is more about the method. Online learning is a key part of any blended learning classroom. And the blended learning classroom is an important part of engaging students. They will appreciated the opportunity to learn independently with online learning in addition to all the other wonderful tools you use in your classroom.

The difference between online learning and distance learning is that online learning is not a replacement for a teacher, nor an online school or course. Rather, online learning is an important part of the successful modern classroom. Find some online learning tools to use in your classroom today!

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About Sarah Layton

Sarah has been with AES since 1998, first serving as a curriculum developer, and now as a customer support analyst and content creator. She is committed to helping instructors gain experience and confidence using our solutions and to providing excellent customer care.