What is Distance Learning | Definition, Schools, Programs

Let us begin with a little statistics. In 2025, 6.6 million students enrolled in distance learning. Due to the spread of COVID-19, that number has skyrocketed to over 400 million students.

Take advantage of the advent of the internet to badge that degree in any course you desire.

Therefore, this article will focus on distance learning, the schools that offer distance learning, and the programs you can enroll in. Asides from these, we also provided an overview of online education and all its components.

Stay with us on this insightful and exciting read.

What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning otherwise known as distance education is the education of students who are not physically present at a school for the lessons but is done through the internet.

Merriam Webster defines distance learning as, “a method of study where teachers and students do not meet in a classroom but use the Internet, e-mail, mail, etc., to have classes.”

Distance learning programs can be completed online or through the hybrid education system. Hybrid education is one where students have several visits to make to the school before graduation. His thesis defense has to be done at the university campus.

Many universities have co-opted the distance learning education system. There are even completely online universities without a physical campus. These schools tend to have more affordable tuition and flexibility for working adults. We will discuss the advantages of distance learning in the later sections of this article.

Virtual classes and MOOCs are used for distance learning.

In this article, we will use distance learning and online education interchangeably.

Brief History of Distance Learning

The first attempt at distance learning was in 1728 by Caleb Philipps, the Teacher of the new method of Short Hand. Boston Gazette helped him seek students who wanted to learn through weekly mailed lessons.

Then, the first distance learning course was provided by Sir Isaac Pitman in the 1840s when he taught shorthand. He mailed texts transcribed into shorthand on postcards and in turn received transcriptions from his students for correction.

This set the pace for correspondence schools in the United States. The University of London took the lead as the first university to offer distance learning degrees in 1858. Oxford University founded by Wolsey Hall joined to become the first distance learning college in the UK in 1894.

What are the Types of Distance Learning?

Online learning has many pedagogies. Here are the established modes.

  • Video conferencing is a common way for teachers to interact directly with students. It is usually a live lesson for a student or multiple students to connect to the teacher.
  • Synchronous learning happens when all the students learn together at the same time and often at the same place, but the instructor is at another location. It uses video or teleconferencing to connect the teacher and learners digitally.
  • Asynchronous learning: For asynchronous learning, students self-study to complete assignments. Basically, in this type of distance learning, students are given learning tasks with deadlines instead of live online lessons, students are given learning tasks with deadlines.
  • Open-schedule: This is an asynchronous learning type with added flexibility. Thereare no deadlines for the online courses. It is ideal for learners with other demands on their time, such as professionals or stay-at-home parents.
  • Fixed-time online courses: Students must visit a specific virtual location at a set time. This allows students from anywhere worldwide to connect, learn and interact online.
  • Computer-based distance education: This type of distance learning is most common to many institutions. Students take their lessons on a computer at a fixed time.
  • Hybrid learning: It is a blended learning system where some students study the same lessons at real time online while other students are offline.
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How Does Distance Learning Work?

There are different types of distance learning available as we have mentioned earlier. Regardless, instructors send all information to students over the internet.

This information may come in the form of: 

  • Online textbooks
  • Screen-recorded videos using tools like Snagit and Camtasia
  • Voice-over slideshow presentations
  • Scheduled chats between students and the instructor

An online education has emphasis on student-friendly course structures and interfaces.

Is My Distance Learning Degrees Valued as a Regular Degree?

This has been the greatest hindrance to students studying online. Many students feel that their distance learning programs are of less value to the regular university degree, but this isn’t so.

Once your distance program is accredited, your degree is valued the same as the one obtained on the campus.

Therefore, be careful to attend an accredited online course since many online programs out there are not accredited.

Also, before choosing a program, it’s important that you assess the school’s reputation and the reputation of your chosen course. If possible, ask employers what they think of your selection and find some current students or alumni to give you an insider’s perspective on the course.

Similarly, check whether your distance-learning provider is accredited by national bodies, such as the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Lastly, 77% of academic leaders rate online education as equal or superior. And 69% of chief academic officers agree. 

Advantages of Distance Learning

Live instructions are similar to regular lessons. It offers a face-to-face interaction between teachers and students although that is through a screen.

We have written out a number of advantages of distance learning over remote learning. Here they are:

#1 Flexibility

One of the top benefits of distance learning is the flexibility it offers. Typically, students can choose when, where, and how to learn and even select the pace of studies.

Students who want to take part in live lessons, have to be part of the online conference options. Others who have jobs and other responsibilities can choose a suitable schedule.

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#2 Ease of Access

The distance learning/education structure comes in handy for students who would otherwise not have access to educational facilities. Distance education offers students the opportunity to improve themselves in their immediate environment.

You can access world-class universities and education that wouldn’t have admitted you on norms. You can get a recognized degree, and certificate from top universities in the world.

#3 Less Tuition

Distance education has reduced the cost of education. Online education removes the infrastructure expenses like room and board, feeding, etc.

In addition, the tuition for online education is less than the tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

For example, at Purdue University, the in-state total tuition is around $22,782, while the international student’s tuition is $45,594. Compare this with UK’s Open University’s tuition. Regardless of the program type (full or part-time), the tuition for online programs is around $8,540 for three years. You can see the difference in tuition range.

What are the disadvantages of distance learning?

The benefits of distance learning are clear, but there are some warnings regarding this learning approach, too.

Let’s consider some of the disadvantages.

First, students face a higher risk of online distraction. Without face-to-face meetings, students can lose track of deadlines and motivation.

Students who work well on their own may easily surmount these obstacles. Students who have trouble prioritizing may stumble. However, it will teach them organizational and scheduling skills. 

Distance learning comes with hidden student costs, too. These expenses include:

  • Gaining access to a reliable computer
  • Having an internet connection
  • Buying a web camera (in some instances)
  • Computer maintenance
  • Utilities (e.g., electricity for internet services)

For students who do not have these resources, distance learning can put them at a distinct disadvantage.

A slow internet connection will hamper a student’s ability to participate online. They may lack the bandwidth to watch videos or teleconference. 

What Should I Look for in a Distance Learning System?

There are certain features students and educators alike should look out for in a distance learning system to get the most out of it.

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#1 Ease of Use

Simplicity is the key. Adopt any online education system that is user-friendly for everyone.  There should be a seamless interface that supports:

  • Digital white-boarding and annotation
  • Media creation and sharing
  • Screen recording with audio
  • Direct student-to-teacher communication
  • Multiple -devices

 #2 Accreditation

Accrediting the online education channel and your course/program of study by the relevant regulatory bodies is non-negotiable. It authenticates your degree.

#3 Does the Online Degree Programs Accept Transferred Credits?

The truth is that many of us have done a few low-cost online courses. These online courses can be added to your credits for the degree as transferred credits.

There are online colleges that allow for this and make it much easier, cheaper, and faster for their students to graduate. 

#4 Cost of the degree

The cost of online education will determine if you’ll choose it above the campus-based counterpart.  However, our analysis above shows that online education costs less than a campus degree.

#5 Are there adequate academic, technical, and career support for online students?

Most online degree programs aren’t as structured as regular degree programs. Make sure there is adequate support for online students before enrolling.

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#6 Schedule

The distance learning system is designed to be flexible. Therefore, the course schedule and content should be flexible enough to accommodate your schedule.

Ascertain the distance education type- is it a synchronous or asynchronous course? Are there deadlines or not? How long do you have to complete the entire course? And does the course’s schedule match yours?

Best Distance Learning Schools and Universities for Online Degrees

Remember that the credibility of the online school you wish to study in matters a lot. As a result, we advise you to enroll in distance learning schools that are internationally recognized, accredited and offer several online programs.

The criteria we choose these schools with are the QS World ranking that offers 10 or more Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees taught fully online.

We also added the number of online programs so students can ascertain the versatility of the course they wish to study.

The Best universities offering online degrees are:

  • University College London: UCL has 20 fully online programs that include teaching and online degrees.
  • Columbia University. Columbia University has 12 fully online programs including Business degrees. 
  • University of Edinburgh: This University has 66 fully online programs including online Medicine degrees, Law degrees, Social Sciences degrees. 
  • Johns Hopkins University: John Hopkins has 88 fully online programs.
  • The University of Manchester: There are 32 fully online programs including Medicine degrees, Business degrees, etc. 
  • Northwestern University: At Northwest, there are 12 fully online programs.
  • King’s College London: Kings has 25 fully online programs that include Medicine degrees, Social Sciences degrees, Law degrees, and more. 
  • University of California, Los Angeles: Has 10 fully online programs including Engineering degrees. 
  • University of Sydney: 28 fully online programs.
  • Monash University: Monash has 33 fully online programs including Medicine and Teaching degrees.
  • The University of Texas at Austin: There are 10 fully online programs that include Engineering degrees, Computer Science degrees, and more.

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Are there Universities that Offer Free Online Courses?

Yes, there are. In this session, we’ll list the top 9 universities that offer free online courses. These universities are renowned and you can enroll in these free courses.  The universities that offer free online courses are:

  • Harvard University
  • University of California, Irvine
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Ecole Polytechnique
  • Michigan state university
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Hong Kong University of science and Technology
  • University College London
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

What are the top Programs for Distance Learning?

After our research, we found out that students who enroll to study online prefer to enroll for the following courses.

  • Teaching Programs that might involve childhood, primary, and secondary teaching.
  • Professional Counselling Courses
  • Information Technology
  • Digital Marketing
  • Photography and Creative Arts
  • Psychology. …
  • Communication and Creative Writing
  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Law
  • Medical related programs

Best Online Learning Platforms in 2025

These are the best platforms for online education in 2025. They are:

  • Udemy
  • Skillshare: Best for Creative Fields
  • MasterClass.
  • Coursera: Best for College Classes
  • EdX.
  • Udacity: Best for Tech.
  • Pluralsight: Best for Data Learning

Conclusion

Distance learning otherwise known as distance education is learning that is the education of students who are not physically present at a school for the lessons but is done through the internet.

The internet has provided an avenue for students all over the world to study at renowned universities of their choice.

Asides from studying at universities, they also have the opportunity to undertake short courses that boost their professional careers. Hence, this article.

World Scholarship Forum has provided this article that explains what distance learning is, its attributes, the schools you can attend for the best online education, and schools that offer free online courses. We hope you enroll today and get a standard education at a lesser cost and at your convenience.

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