What is Distance Learning?

What is distance learning?

I have believed distance learning to be the process by which learners of all ages access curriculum or coursework by digital or technological means.  Distance learning often occurs in the form of discussion boards, instant messaging, e-mails, instructional videos, digital resources or materials, screencasts, blogs, video conferencing or chatting, file sharing, and slideshow presentations.  These elements, and sometimes others, work cohesively together to create an online classroom that meets the varying needs of learners.  Distance learning isn’t reserved to adult learners or college students; students in grades K-12 can also access the same curriculum as their peers through technology.  While distance learning mostly occurs technologically, it is not merely limited to recording a video of oneself giving instructions or information pertaining to a particular topic.  Distance learning, in fact, is “the most dramatic of the recent technology-based innovations influencing education (Simonson, Smaldino, & Zvacek, 2015).”

How is distance learning impacting currently impacting the field of education?

This form of learning has become a major topic in education, and it is slowly but certainly becoming a part of mainstream education.  Distance education is growing quickly and is becoming an important instructional approach; it’s a lasting approach to educating learners of various ages and with varying learning needs (Simonson, 2015).  To be exact, a report released by the Sloan Consortium displayed interesting statistics related to distance learning.  Studies surrounding distance education in the Midwest show that about 15% of students in 11 states are enrolled in an online course, which equates to about 460,000 students (Allen & Seaman, 2007).  In addition to this, the percentage of people who believe that online learning outcomes are superior to face-to-face learning outcomes has increased (Allen, 2007).  States like Florida and Arkansas are adopting virtual learning programs, and some universities (i.e. Indiana University and University of Missouri) are sponsoring virtual high schools.

Where do we see distance learning in the future?

Education is evolving rapidly, and distance learning is playing an intricate part in this process.  Distance learning affords learners of all ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and abilities to receive a fair, quality education through digital means.  With the use of technology, learners receive curricula and coursework that will prepare them for a globally competitive workforce.  The future of distance learning appears to be opening the doors for twenty-first century learners to thrive in today’s society.


Simonson, M. R., Smaldino, S. E., & Zvacek, S. (2015). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (6th ed.). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


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