Defining Distance Learning

distant learning

Distant learning has certainly come a long way, from its early beginning as correspondence courses to what we now know as e-learning. The history of distance learning dates back to 1833 when European newspapers offered civil service examination courses through mail correspondence (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.). Fifty-six years after the first distance education was offered in Europe, the University of Chicago initiated the first university course to be taken by mail (Laureate Education Inc., n.d.).  The demand for distant learning has also increased two fold since its inception.  Adult learners seem to be the driving force in the evolution and increased demand for distance learning.  If we look at corporations and educational institutions today, we can’t help but notice the rapid expansion in the market for distance education. I believe the expansion is fueled by the desire for lifelong learning among adults and the growth in student populations throughout the world.

Despite distance learning long history, the definition of the term is still evolving.  I believe the definition changed when computers were introduced, and continues to change with the rapid advancement of technology.  Correspondence courses were considered distant learning, because learning occurred where the learner is absent from the institution or educational site. I must admit that prior to my enrollment in a University online course, my understanding and definition was limited to a course taken online, with no consideration for the design, environment, tools and techniques involved. My definition would have been: Learning that take place at a distance from the traditional educational institution and the instructor. The learning would occur online with some communication and interaction with the instructor and classmates.  The course would utilize the computer, to enable the instructor and learner who are separated by distance to communicate synchronously (real time) or asynchronously (delayed).

Today distant learners can now access learning opportunities at anytime, anyplace, and at any pace that suits their individual needs, lifestyle and learning preference.  As a student at Walden University, my current definition of distance education is a method of delivering instruction using a variety of communication technological tools to transfer information to the learner.  These tools enable the instructor to assign group project, collect assignment, offer opportunities for interaction between students and teacher in real time or delayed via video feed, blogs wiki, social media and much more.

My definition of distance learning has evolved even further, after reviewing this week’s resources and discussion. I have learned that Distance education must be institutionally based. My new definition is now: An institution based, formal education in which a learning group is separated geographically.  The course utilizes a learning management system with embedded interactive technology to submit and collect assignments. Instructor and student interaction is encouraged through discussion boards and blogs.

According to this week’s resources, it has been argued that distant education has the potential to transform or replace traditional institutions and ultimately lead to the reduction of educational quality.  As a current distant learner, I can attest to the fact that distant education has offered me a rich alternative to the traditional residential institution.  Distant education has given me access to a challenging learning environment with real world application, that I would otherwise missed due to my currents work/life situation. “Distance education has evolved for almost 200 years and will continue to progress in meeting the needs of societies both in the United States and abroad” (Tracey and Richey, 2005, p. 21). According to Dr.  Simonson, distant learning will never replace the traditional institution, and I believe that it poses no threat to our current educational institutions, but will continue to work alongside it to broaden the population of students with access to an education.

My vision for distant learning is to see more movement in the direction of K-12 education.  Such a development can offer a radical new direction for Instructional Designer, teachers and learners.  This could create a whole new world of flexibility and open learning methods as well as modified and specially created learning resources that could serve students when they are away from school.

Distance Learning MindMap:





Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Distance learning timeline continuum. Retrieved from:

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Tracey, M., & Richey, R. (2005). The evolution of distance education. Distance Learning, 2(6), 17–21. Education Research Complete database.





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1 Response to Defining Distance Learning

  1. Hi Lana! I’ll be following your blog throughout this course.

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