What Is Distance Learning?

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Distance learning, or eLearning, is a formalized instructional system designed to be carried out remotely by using digital communications.

Distance learning is less expensive to support and is not constrained by geography. Indeed, instructors, facilitators, and learners can be located anywhere and can engage in distance learning as long as they have an Internet connection.

Benefits of Distance Learning

Benefits of distance learning include:

  • Lower costs: Organizations do not need to lease classroom space, create and distribute printed materials, or pay for employees to travel to a learning site.
  • Higher productivity: Employees can often learn at any time and via short modules, without needing to leave their workspace or disrupt their workday significantly.
  • Accommodates different paces: ELearning can accommodate different learning styles and the different pace at which people absorb new knowledge or acquire new skills.

Training teams should spend less time chasing collaborators and more time focusing on developing exceptional content learners will love.

ELearning designer and author Tim Slade shares his top tips for generating stellar eLearning projects:

The Secret Formula for Keeping eLearning Projects On Track and On Budget

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Challenges of Distance Learning

Distance learning is not without its challenges, though each of these can be addressed by the learning team.

  • Requires motivation: Distance learning requires that learners be self-starters and exhibit responsibility and self-control.
  • Technical and UX issues: The platform must be fully functional and user-friendly across all platforms, operating systems, and devices.
  • Not suitable for all skills: Students’ personal contact with each other and with instructors is minimal. As such, according to eLearning Industry, distance learning might not be suitable for developing communication skills, confidence, or teamwork skills.

However, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and the modality, if it isn’t already, should already be a part of your organization’s L&D course delivery strategy.

If you’re running virtual instructor-led sessions, check out what Master Trainer, Kassy LaBorie had to say about producing engaging virtual training in this on-demand webinar recording.


Types of Distance Learning

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning happens in real-time: the instructor is teaching live and the students are logged in to a platform where they watch, listen to, and participate in the class as it is happening. While this is more efficient than the lesson or course taking place in a physical classroom, when participants live in different time zones or have different work schedules, finding a suitable schedule can be a challenge.

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning is distance learning this is not held in real-time. Facilitators or subject matter experts can record a lesson and learners can access the content at a later date and time. An eLearning platform can keep track of which students have logged on, when, for how long, and other metrics.

Hybrid Learning

Hybrid learning combines synchronous and asynchronous learning. Some lessons might be live—either in a physical classroom or virtual platform—while others might be asynchronous and digital, with the learners holding the responsibility to complete certain modules or reference support tools.  

Personalized Learning

Thanks to AI and machine learning technologies, learners can have their very own individual set and schedule of courses created for them. A hybrid set of eLearning tools would be personalized for each employee, allowing employees to learn “in the flow of work” without needing to set aside time to attend courses or get bogged down in content they already know. (See how Cognota client Solenis rapidly developed “Learn It Now” modules to keep employees engaged while not distracting them from their daily tasks.)

Managing or participating in an eLearning development project can be full of potential pitfalls and challenges.

Download this eLearning Project Plan Template to manage deliverables and keep milestones on track.

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What Is Distance Learning?