Skip to Content Request Info

What is Distance Learning?

What is Distance Learning?

You say tomato, I say to-ma-to. Same thing, different pronunciation, right? It gets a little trickier, however, if you say “trunk,” while I say “boot.”  They could be the same thing, or they could be two very different things. (For anyone wondering, “boot” is the British term for the trunk of a car.)

A similar conundrum often presents itself when you hear the terms “distance learning” and “online learning.” Are they simply different expressions for the same thing, or are they completely distinct learning platforms? To figure that out, let’s define distance learning. We’ll use an acronym - RIV - to give a clearer picture and help you remember its distinctive features.


Distance learning takes place from wherever you are with no face-to-face or in-person interaction with instructors or classmates. You are separated by distance and are not coming together physically for your education.


As opposed to group projects completed with peers in a classroom, distance learning is individualized learning. You are responsible for meeting all of the requirements of the course personally. That doesn’t mean, however, that assistance is not available or that you will complete the course devoid of interaction with your instructor or peers. 


Distance learning is almost always fully virtual, or fully online, utilizing computers and the internet for completing courses in an online environment. This aspect of distance learning is why it is often confused with “online learning” or “e-learning.” The distinction is that face-to-face instruction can also take advantage of the internet and online tools to augment instruction, thus incorporating “online learning.” Distance learning is unique in that the virtual platform is the only learning environment used, with no face-to-face instruction or interaction taking place.

Online degree programs from an accredited institution, such as Ottawa University, will undoubtedly be offered as distance learning. It is extremely important, however, to make sure you are speaking the same language. Do your homework surrounding the following definitions of remote learning before deciding if a program is right for you, as different types of distance education are often described using varying terms.

Fully Online/Online Only

This type of distance learning is done completely online; you are not required to meet face-to-face or come to campus at any time during your degree pursuit. Ottawa University offers a wide variety of programs that are 100% online.


 This distance learning format works best for students who want the convenience of online learning combined with the personal interaction of face-to-face education. While most of the coursework is done online or remotely, students must meet periodically at specified times and locations to participate in study groups or to receive in-person instruction or training.  

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

Some distance learning allows for video teaching or virtual classrooms. By utilizing web-conferencing technology like Zoom, Skype or even Google Hangouts, lectures can be viewed online by students. Classified as both online learning and distance learning, the difference lies in the availability of the video conference. Synchronous distance learning means that the video conference is offered only in real time and students are engaging “live” with their professor and classmates, usually with the capability of contributing to class discussion. You must log in to the “meeting” at the designated time. Asynchronous distance learning, on the other hand, makes use of the recorded lecture or class and allows you to watch it when it is convenient for you. Live participation is not an option.


Rare in today’s virtual society, some learning institutions do offer the opportunity to complete courses via email, mail, or fax. Some correspondence courses are for career or personal development only, while others offer college credit that can go towards a degree, so be sure to check beforehand before choosing this distance learning option.


Hybrid distance learning would be considered any combination of the other types of remote learning. It may be worth noting, however, that some institutions refer to hybrid learning or hybrid degree programs as taking some courses face-to-face and some courses online.  

What are some of the benefits of distant learning?

One of the first and most obvious perks of distance education is that it can be done from anywhere in the world if you have a computer and reliable internet service, bringing some of the best education institutions and professors directly to you instead of having to navigate the logistics of studying abroad – or even across the country. You also have a roving classroom, with the ability to complete classes at your favorite coffee shop, on vacation, or on the couch – all on your schedule. Distance learning may prove especially inviting for anyone with restricted mobility due to health, family, work, or other concerns.

Second, distance learning can be significantly cheaper than traditional face-to-face degree programs, saving as much as $50,000 in some cases. Not only is the program itself less expensive, but you also save by not commuting to classes or paying for room and board.

A third benefit of distance learning is the fact that it is self-paced. Face-to-face classes meet on location at designated times. Distance learning, on the other hand, allows you to hold down a job, care for your family, maintain your hobbies, and stay involved in your community, all while completing your coursework when it’s convenient for you.

The fourth benefit is also an important reminder. While distance learning is self-paced and individualized, you are not alone or without resources in your educational pursuits. Fully online degree programs offer a wide range of assistance for students who choose remote learning. Advisors are available to help with things like admissions, financial aid, and academic challenges. Faculty are also available via email or message boards to answer your questions, give feedback, or provide guidance. And don’t forget your fellow classmates. You will be interacting with them often through discussion boards or even through social media outside of class. They can be a great resource for studying, feedback, and encouragement – even career opportunities. In fact, getting to know people from around the country and around the world offers a different kind of education all its own.

Is distance learning right for you?

You can best make that determination by doing three things: 

1) ensure the online degree program is from an accredited institution, such as Ottawa University

2) research the university’s type of distance education it offers

3) reach out to an enrollment advisor to help you determine if distance learning matches your educational needs.

If the answer is “Yes,” enroll today and begin your remote learning journey to a more successful you!

Posted: 08/06/2020
Back to top