How Are Distance Learning And Online Learning Similar

The online learning experience differs for each student, but are the nuances felt equally, once students graduate? Be warned: this quiz is going to throw a wrench into your thoughts about distance learning.

How Are Distance Learning And Online Learning Similar?

Are distance learning and online learning similar? Given the new HCOA’s (Higher Education Coordinating Agency) recommendation that distance learning is important and we should be taking advantage of it, it’s relevant to ask. We’ve been covering this phenomenon in a lot of ways. But here’s a quick refresher.

Distance Learning

Distance learning refers to a process in which students are transported by an educational expert from one area of study to another or are provided with virtual access to a professional educator by video conferencing a distance over a university campus.

Online Learning

Online learning includes instruction made available through the Internet (e.g., online classrooms) or via email, smartphones and tablets (i.e., online study groups).

Think about them in tandem. Remember the efficacy of distance learning? Well, I was reminded of that this week during a conversation with Mark Grammer, professor of integrated communications at the State University of New York Buffalo, who is himself a founder of distance learning (

Mark and I met in New York City for the HCOA’s recent Distance Learning Convention & Expo, during which he provided me with a great overview of the two types of learning processes in the services and professions (at the convention).

Within the fields of education, Mark pointed out that in order to participate in (physical) distance learning you can either undertake traditional distance learning courses or distance learning topics that are particularly suited to your interests but that are not what you’re studying in one particular area.

One main difference, aside from how you engage in the process (i.e., whether you see your instructor face-to-face or whether you interact online), is that education outside of the classroom is expected to take place in real time (e.g., online classrooms) and in the spirit of transparency, there’s a real expectation that your instructor will provide you with feedback at an appropriate time.

Online Learning

Any teaching or service delivered on the Internet or online is meant to enable access to information, give the opportunity to the world’s population for education and to be attuned to meeting the needs of a significant portion of the population in more effective ways than a human instructor could, and to allow for the exchange of ideas and information.

Education through the Internet

We also discussed two related phenomena. The first relates to the speed of the Internet. Previously, the Internet had been a very time-consuming and costly process for one to realize. Mark pointed out that although the developing world of high-speed internet, with the speed and reliability to facilitate travel, are excellent for international learning and travel, traditional distance learning students have had to travel far to participate in the distance learning program.

Today, however, the Internet has changed that. With the proliferation of high-speed connectivity around the world, distance learning is no longer necessary to be on your desktop but can be done via mobile devices (a mobile device is important for this technology because studies indicate you usually take a 10- to 20-minute break to drink tea or coffee if you haven’t taken a break in a while).

Mark also mentioned that many universities now have apps that can function as the equivalent of a physical learning device (you could probably even refer to one of my missives back in March about how a smartphone can transform a virtual semester into real-life learning).

Online Learning

One of the other phenomena we discussed was the growing availability of online colleges. Only a few years ago, a student’s academic experience consisted of a visit to the campus. But now online colleges are opening in all kinds of locations such as assisted living centers and the homeless shelters to name a few.

Such innovative approaches to distance learning, combined with online tutoring and online study groups, are a valuable combination for students.

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