Distance Learning: Definition and Benefits (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

With technology constantly evolving, there have been more platforms for education in recent years. Distance learning is becoming more popular for both educators and students because it provides more flexibility and is easily accessible. If you're an educator who is interested in working in an online capacity with less direct student interaction, then you may want to consider a career in distance learning. In this article, we discuss what distance learning is, its benefits for teachers, distance learning versus online learning, types of distance learning and tips for educators.

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What is distance learning?

Distance learning is the process of learning remotely through online lectures rather than attending a physical class. Students can complete their distance learning anywhere there is an internet connection and can do their work on most devices. This form of learning provides students with more freedom to accomplish their work tasks on a schedule that suits their needs and can be a great choice for older students or learners who work well independently.

Because technology has been more readily available in recent years, distance learning is becoming a popular choice for some students. It's become common for secondary students in grades six to 12 to take a few distance learning classes or even attend full-time. Many university students choose distance learning as their primary method of learning as well because it can be more cost-effective than attending live classes and allows them to manage their time more effectively.

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Benefits of distance learning for teachers

There are many benefits of distance learning for educators:

Provides efficiency

Distance learning offers teachers an efficient way to teach lessons to their students. It provides teachers with several tools, such as online quiz games, podcasts, blog posts and videos that they can incorporate into their lesson plans. While they still use textbooks to teach material, they can incorporate some of those online tools into the plans to make a more engaging lesson for teachers and students.

Offers the ability to teach anywhere and any time

Distance learning makes teaching more accessible for teachers because they can teach from any location at any time. Educators can pre-record their lessons so that it's easy for students to view them anytime. This gives teachers more time to do things they don't normally get to do while teaching multiple lessons each day, such as responding to emails, grading assignments or planning lessons more effectively.

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Improves student attendance

Student attendance can improve through the use of distance learning because, like teachers, the ability to attend class online makes learning more accessible to students. Student attendance is important to educators because when students attend class, they're more likely to do well academically. Teachers can depend on them to see the work and complete it on time, which gives them less reason to contact parents for student absences or declining grades.

Saves time by using online platforms

Educators who are working solely online can use many educational online platforms when creating assignments for their students. These online platforms can make grading and inputting student grades a lot simpler for teachers because the programs can grade the assignments and input some of the grades directly into the online teacher grade book. This saves teachers time and gives them the opportunity to focus on other tasks.

Distance learning vs. online learning

Distance learning occurs completely digitally, whereas online learning is the practice of using digital tools to implement learning in the classroom. The two types of learning share a few characteristics in common. For example, they both provide methods of teaching and learning for educators and students. In addition, they both use the internet and incorporate the use of technology to engage and educate students in the learning process. However, there are also some notable differences between the two:

Location

Students who partake in distance learning do so from a location other than the classroom. Most of them do so from their homes, but may also choose to work in a library, coffee shop or anywhere with internet access. Online learning can still take place in a physical classroom, but the online aspect occurs when teachers give online assignments or quizzes that students complete while in class through the use of technology like cell phones or laptops.

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Intention

The intention of distance learning is to complete a student's education solely online with no in-person interactions with educators or students. With online learning, students still learn in the classroom, but teachers supplement additional material through the use of online tools. Online learning provides different learning opportunities for students by allowing them to learn in person and be able to interact with other students and their teachers while still using enrichment activities that incorporate technology.

Interaction

Since students complete distance learning completely through the use of a computer or laptop, there's no direct interaction between students and educators. Students may still communicate with each other through the use of discussion boards using an online platform or an occasional video call, but there isn't a time when they meet in person.

Students who participate in online learning still see their peers and educators in the classroom frequently. Because online learning is a blended learning approach, a portion of the class involves direct collaboration with other students through group work or class discussions. The rest of their time in class requires interacting with online programs to implement content learned in class.

Types of distance learning

There are many types of distance learning to choose from, depending on students' learning styles and preferences:

Video conferencing

This type of distance learning allows teachers to interact with their students through the use of video chats. Some teachers do video conferencing one-on-one to answer questions directly or to go over a concept that a student may have found challenging. Other times, teachers host an open forum for an hour or so that permits students who need guidance to enter the video conference and discuss their work with their teacher and other students on the conference call.

Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning is when the educator teaches a live lesson to all of their students at once while students log in and participate from their homes. It's the closest scenario to teaching a lesson in the classroom because all students are present and the teacher lectures to everyone at one time. It can increase interaction between the educator and students as it allows them to discuss the material being learned, and students can even work in smaller groups during the synchronous learning to collaborate.

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning is a more relaxed approach to distance learning which allows the students to access the materials in a more leisurely manner. This gives students the opportunity to complete their work in a less structured environment as they can watch pre-recorded videos of the teacher giving a lesson or read the study material during a time that is convenient for them. This style of distance learning is ideal for students who work well independently and are successful at managing their time.

Hybrid learning

Hybrid learning is a synchronous learning model that occurs when some students are physically present during the lesson while others are watching the lesson live from their homes. It blends in-class and distance learning together so that students can use either mode to learn the same material. Hybrid learning is a newer method of learning that institutions are implementing more and more to fulfill the needs of their learners, as some prefer in-class learning while others thrive when they have more independence in their learning.

Tips for distance learning

Here are some tips you may consider using if you're a distance learning educator:

  • Keep in touch with students' families. Consider choosing at least one to two families each week to contact via email or phone and let them know how their child is doing. Parents usually appreciate open communication and it can be useful to have a relationship with them in case you ever need their support.

  • Provide feedback to your students**.** You generally have fewer one-on-one interactions with your students in a distance learning format, so it's important to give them feedback on their work when you can. This lets them know what they're doing well, how to improve and that you value the work they're doing.

  • Collaborate with your peers. You may want to collaborate with other distance learning educators to get a better idea of what strategies they're using with their students that are producing positive results. You can share some of the online learning tools you've used and liked and vice versa.

  • Set clear goals and expectations. Let your students know early in the semester what your goals are for them. Setting clear expectations can help motivate them to do their best and produce more high-quality work.

  • Stay consistent with your online tools. There are numerous tools available to you and your students online. Try starting with two or three and using them consistently with your students so that everyone has the opportunity to adjust and become comfortable with them before adding more.

  • Keep a schedule. Try to create a routine that is convenient for you and keep it for the semester. You can set aside specific time for office hours, planning and grading. Setting a routine can help you get work done more efficiently and provide your students with a consistent time they can contact you.

  • Offer students a chance to reflect. It's important to reflect on the learning experience whether it be in person or online, so consider giving students an assignment that allows them to reflect on their distance learning experience. This may provide you with feedback on how you can improve in the future.

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