Distance Learning: The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning in 2023

Distance learning, especially online education, has become popular among young and adult learners alike. In 2019, over 7.3 million students were reported as enrolled in any distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. (NCES, 2019) Come 2020, the pandemic compelled governments to use online education tools while schools were closed in 83% of countries. However, this only allowed for reaching around a fifth of kids globally. (UNICEF, 2020)

Online learning is not as effective as classroom-based instruction, according to a 2020 poll of over 2,500 teachers in eight countries, (Fleming, 2021) that is at least for kids. For adult learners, however, distance learning is empowering. Here is a probe into distance learning: The ultimate guide to online learning that could serve as a distance learning guide for parents as well.

Distance Learning Guide Table of Contents

  1. What is distance learning?
  2. Types of Distance Learning
  3. Is distance learning right for you?
  4. 10 Tips for a Successful Distance Learning Experience
  5. Are distance learning degrees recognized?

Popular Online Degree Programs

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A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program with a specialization in Nurse Administration equips registered nurses with advanced leadership skills. The curriculum focuses on informatics, organizational behavior, and leadership, ensuring graduates are well-prepared for executive roles such as clinical nurse leaders and nurse managers.

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What is distance learning?

Distance education or distance learning refers to teaching and learning outside of a brick-and-mortar classroom. More technically, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) defines it as education using one or more types of technology in delivering instruction to students separated from the instructor. Such technologies serve to support regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors synchronously or asynchronously. Some institutions even leverage a curriculum management system to align their programs both on-campus and off-campus.

The technologies for instruction listed by IPEDS are as follows:

  • Internet
  • Satellite or wireless communication
  • Audio and video conferencing

The United States Distance learning Association (USDLA) notes that distance learning does not only refer to video conferencing or specific types of technology. The term distance learning encompasses the full array of current and emerging technologies that organizations use to deliver educational experiences and products. (Flores, 2009)

Distance learning, therefore, according to USDLA includes “e-learning, texting, social networking, virtual worlds, game-based learning, and webinars.” It involves various means of gathering knowledge: “It’s the Internet. It’s Google. It’s broadband and satellite and cable and wireless,”  and students can use their phones, computers, or whatever communication device might emerge next for learning. (Flores, 2009)

Major universities are not the only ones that offer distance learning. There are also boot camps and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Simply, distance learning is a means to bring education and training to where students or trainees are connecting their world to worldwide learning communities.

Source: Online Schools Center

Types of Distance Learning

There are different types of distance learning, and they can be classified by the method of delivery and by mode or pacing.

Method of Delivery

Distance learning can be classified according to the method by which it is delivered or made available to the learner. While distance learning is often associated with online learning, it could be done offline as well.


The growth of digital technology, especially video conferencing software, has made online distribution the preferred technique for modern distance learning. Essentially, this refers to remote learning that is conducted entirely online. This delivery technique is rising at the expense of more traditional in-person classes. Now, students can learn online even outside campus through online universities, boot camps, or MOOCs.

In 2021, the most visited education site in the US was Instructure.com with 391 million visits. (SEMrush, 2021) Enrollment in online courses has increased as overall student enrollment has decreased. (NCES, 2021)


Offline distance learning is when instructional materials, assignments, and exams are sent to students and back to schools by courier services. This is actually how the concept of distance education began. It is now considered outdated, but some academic institutions, such as colleges and universities, still use it.

Although offline distance learning is slower than modern online options, it allows access to education even without a stable high-speed internet connection. It is sometimes used in places where learners struggle with internet connections, thus making still distance learning accessible.

most visited education site in 2021

Mode and Pacing

Distance learning can be classified into two modes of delivery: synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous mode is also referred to as paced learning, as it requires students to attend regular meetings or lectures. Meanwhile, the asynchronous mode of learning is self-paced in that it allows students to access materials, ask questions, and practice skills whenever they choose. While this can occur in a regular classroom, it is most commonly used for online courses.

Synchronous (Paced)

For synchronous or paced learning, schools, colleges, universities, or training providers set schedules that students follow, allowing learners to know the start and end of a course and the modules it contains. There are meetings or lectures that students must attend, and deadlines for exams, assignments, or projects are fixed.

As such, academic institutions or distance learning providers control the pace of students’ development so that everyone finishes at around the same time.

Examples of synchronous online learning may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Videoconferencing or teleconferencing
  • Live-streamed lectures
  • Live chats

The synchronous or paced learning benefits educators since they can organize their courses and follow structures. Just the same, it is ideal for students who have issues working independently and require supervision to accomplish tasks.

Asynchronous (Self-Paced)

Asynchronous learning or self-paced learning, on the other hand, allows students to choose when to start school work and how much time to dedicate to each task. The pace at which students finish a lesson or a course relies on their willingness and capacity to devote time to their studies. That said, students who allocate more hours to a module in a week could progress and finish faster than those who devote less time.

Adult learners who have other work or family obligations benefit from self-paced learning since they can adjust their learning activities according to their commitments. Meanwhile, this pacing is also ideal for students who are often held back by the pressure of deadlines and of the faster progress of their peers. Such students are able to learn and grow at their own pace. However, self-paced learning tends to encourage independent work rather than teamwork.

Meanwhile, asynchronous learning utilizes other tools and systems, allowing instructors and students to interact on their own schedules. The following are included in asynchronous learning:

  • Recorded presentations or lectures available on-demand
  • Discussion boards
  • Email exchanges
  • Cloud-based documents
  • Social media groups

Asynchronous learning became prevalent especially at the onset of the pandemic. In 2020, 63% of polled learning and development professionals used self-paced virtual training and a similar percentage used self-paced offline training. Nearly a third of these same set of professionals expect their departments to use custom learning in the next two years, and 18% believe their departments will adopt self-paced virtual training for the first time. (Mimeo, 2020)

Besides, a 2021 poll of K–12 educators by EdTech shows the majority of the respondents want the asynchronous learning element to be carried out into the classroom in 2022.


Meanwhile, some institutions offer hybrid modes, which combine elements of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Students must convene at a specific time in an online chat room or classroom. On this platform, they work at their own pace. Hybrid courses are frequently offered when educational institutions lack room for all program course loads.

Source: Mimeo

Is distance learning right for you?

Diving into distance learning instantly may not be such a wise decision. Among the distance learning guidelines for students to use would be simply asking themselves certain questions to avoid any rash decisions. Here are some of the questions to ask.

  • What are my educational goals? What would I like to be doing five or 10 years from now? Do I need to upskill? Do I need a degree? Am I studying for a certificate?
  • Why am I contemplating distance education? Is my schedule so hectic that I cannot attend regular school? Are my work and family commitments making it difficult for me to attend traditional school?
  • Am I willing to do as much work as what typical courses need, if not more?
  • Can I manage my time well so that I can reconcile my home and work duties with school responsibilities? Do I have enough time to comply with the requirements? Will I be able to make time for all of my responsibilities: course work, professional duties, family obligations, and other activities?
  • Am I disciplined and motivated enough to work frequently if I do not have to show up for a class at a defined time and place?
  • Do I have the initiative and boldness required to ask questions and to seek help? Am I willing to ask for help?
  • Are my study skills enough for me to read, research, write papers, and take tests independently?
  • Can I clearly explain my ideas verbally and in writing?
  • Can I stand not seeing my classmates and teachers in person? Will I be comfortable working with people I will not be seeing in person? Can I stand working alone?

Contemplating these questions help students decide whether distance learning is for them. It must be clear to them why they are considering distance education, if their time and skills will allow it, and if they have the skills needed to succeed.

The Pros and Cons of Distance Learning

Some students may encounter difficulty with remote learning or issues with online education. It may not be the ideal fit for everyone. However, other students will find considerable value in distance education. Western Governors University (2021) provides a categorized list of pros and cons as remote learning guidelines for students to make informed decisions.


Technical Element

  • Master new technologies

  • Build confidence in technology skills

  • Learn from anyplace with internet access

  • Communicate and share knowledge more efficiently

  • Slow or intermittent internet connection

  • Programs and software are down



  • More employers consider online education as valid

  • HR leaders equate online credentials to in-person credentials

  • Some employers may be reluctant to hire someone with an online degree

  • For-profit or non-accredited online colleges generally lack a reputation


  • No commute

  • Time for childcare

  • No need to leave employment to attend class

  • Asynchronous learning allows for self-paced progress

  • Students have control of their schedule

  • Synchronous learning requires logging in during class time or watching discussions live

  • Can be problematic for people without motivation


  • Leave messages for mentors on communication platforms, which allow frequent interaction despite not being real-time

  • Use discussion boards to seek and offer assistance

  • Build a network of alumni for further learning and career opportunities

  • In many cases, has reduced, if not entirely zero interaction with others

  • Not ideal for those who prefer face-to-face contact 
    Interaction is typically done via phone or the internet

What to Look for in a Distance Learning Program

With the many options of distance education providers, making a choice could be challenging to many students, especially for adult learners seeking to earn a degree online or to further their education. There are certain things to check when evaluating a school or provider, and here are distance learning guidelines for students who are on the hunt for providers.

  • Ease of Use: Make sure the platform used by the school or provider is user-friendly. It should have a clear and easy-to-navigate interface. Some needed features include but are not limited to, digital whiteboarding and annotation, media creation and sharing, and screen recording with audio
  • Accreditation: The school or provider’s credibility is vital. Is the institution accredited? Are the teachers qualified or certified (if needed)? Are the degrees offered recognized? Does it provide certification?
  • Schedule: Is the program offered asynchronous or synchronous? If synchronous, is attending the lectures or meetings viable?

The primary contention about distance learning remains to be the quality.  In the study "Student attitude to distance education: Pros and cons," published in  the Cypriot Journal of Educational Sciences, Illarionova et al. (2021) noted that "The transition to online education entails the accessibility and massification of higher education, caused by its significant reduction in price, which, on the one hand, eliminates the problem of unequal access to education, but on the other, inevitably leads to a decrease in the quality of university education."

While price and accessibility may be enticing factors, other indicators of education quality should be probed. The easiest way to investigate is to explore every nook and cranny of the schools' website to discover if the program content, features, schedule, and other details are the right fit. If possible, email or call the program coordinator to clarify the information.

10 Tips for a Successful Distance Learning Experience

It may be challenging to succeed in distance learning. As such, here are some tips that could aid learners, young and adults alike, in going through distance learning with ease.

  1. Make it a habit to check in with the instructor to keep pace with the program.
  2. Take the initiative to ask for help or any clarification.
  3. Explore and be familiar with any new technology required in the program.
  4. Find a study space, something quiet and away from where most activities at home or at work take place.
  5. Create a routine to stay on schedule. Having a fixed time of the day to do coursework would help. Include rest in the routine.
  6. Keep a calendar or to-do list to record due dates and set alarms or notifications weeks or days ahead.
  7. Interact with classmates to share ideas
  8. Communicate course schedules and needs with family and friends for them to understand the support they can give, be it peace and quiet or assistance in learning.
  9. For asynchronous learning, set a deadline even if the school or provider has no deadline. Doing so builds discipline.
  10. Do not procrastinate. This is not only for synchronous learning but for asynchronous as well.

Are distance learning degrees recognized?

The U.S. Department of Education (2010) reported that online students did modestly better than traditional face-to-face students. Online learning is also beneficial to a variety of subject and learner types. As such, employers are recognizing graduates of online degrees.

In fact, a Northeastern University (2018) poll found that 61% of HR leaders believe online learning is of equal quality to traditional learning methods, if not better. Meanwhile, 71% of organizations said they had hired a job applicant with an online degree in the past 12 months. (Gallagher, 2018)

In the same study, more than half the organizations believe most advanced degrees in the future will be completed online. Some 33% believe online education will eventually be better than traditional face-to-face instruction given the development of technology. (Gallagher, 2018)

Still, the quality of the institution from which a degree is earned is vital, as 83% of business leaders believe an online degree from a “well-known” college equals an on-campus degree. However, if they are unfamiliar with a school or its offerings, they might not value the degree earned highly.

Employers are more likely to accept an online degree from a school that also offers traditional on-campus courses. They assume that traditional colleges and universities construct online courses with the same care that they do in-person courses. As such, only 42% of employers would consider a candidate with an online degree from a university that only runs online, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

hr leaders' perception of online learning

The Future of Distance Learning

Distance learning, be it for young or adult learners, has a positive outlook. Despite claims that distance learning, particularly e-learning, is not as effective among young learners as it is among adults, some elements of it are appreciated by educators. As earlier mentioned, EdTech’s poll shows a significant number of educators hoping to incorporate asynchronous learning in the classroom.

Even in the learning and development departments of organizations, professionals are expecting self-paced virtual training to become mainstream, and more employers believe that soon, the most advanced degrees can be completed online. This is no surprise, as even now, there are undergraduate engineering degrees offered online. The future of distance learning, online learning most especially, is bright.