Distance Learning


Lowenthal, P. R., Rice, K., Rich, S., & Walters, S. (2017). Distance Learning. In A. Hynds (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies in education. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/OBO/9780199756810-0186


Distance learning, also referred to as “distance education” and sometimes simply as “online learning” or “distributed learning,” is a term used to describe the practice of learning at a distance. Historically, distance learning dates back to the 1880s and was defined by a teacher and a student being separated by space and time. This early form of distance learning is often described as correspondence education, where a student might complete lessons from a workbook and then mail them to a teacher. Over the years, however, distance learning changed along with technology. For instance, with advances in technology, teachers and students were able to interact in more sophisticated ways while still being separated by space and time. Although this separation of student and teacher by space and time is still a hallmark of distance learning, there are now many variations of distance learning—ranging from self-paced “correspondence”-like courses, asynchronous group-paced online courses, and informal synchronous (e.g., webinars) and asynchronous videos (e.g., Kahn Academy), to name a few. From its inception, distance learning has attracted critics who are skeptical of whether one can learn effectively at a distance. However, distance learning continues to grow. In the 21st century, asynchronous group-paced online learning is the most popular form of distance learning and many estimate that one in five college students take at least one online course each year; however, there are also growing numbers of students completing some form of blended learning that leverages some aspect of distance learning in face-to-face courses and in turn continues to blur the lines between “distance learning” and “face-to-face” learning.

Keywords: Distance learning, Distance education, Online learning, Foundations, History

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