Defining Distance Learning

For this week’s blog assignment, we are supposed to define distance learning. Prior to starting this course, I would have defined the current state of distance learning as the act of learning through media delivered via the Internet. My definition excluded other media such as phone, television, and DVDs as I believed these media represented a small portion of current distance learning offerings now and in the future. My definition did not limit the media type delivered via the Internet. I believed that streaming videos, blog posts, discussion forums, webinars, and university-level online courses all were valid components of distance learning. These components could be delivered to a desktop computer, laptop, or mobile device.

After this week’s studies, I now understand that my definition of distance learning was too narrow. I should not place that many limitations on the media types. Correspondence teaching still occurs in locations where modern technologies are not prevalent. Two-way audio and video systems using fiber-optic lines allow instructors to interact with students at a distance (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2009).

The words distance and learning  also help define the term. The distance component refers to both space and time. Distance includes the space is the separation in location between the instructor, the student, and the other students. Distance also includes the difference in time that occurs in asynchronous learning when the student uses learning modules at a time of their choosing.

The learning component refers to the act of participating in a learning endeavor. This includes instruction, interaction, practice, and evaluation. Self-study at a distance is not distance learning (Simonson, 2011). All of the pieces of a well constructed learning module must exist for learning to occur.

My definition of distance learning can now be represented by this mind map. The definition of distance learning will continue to evolve as new technologies emerge. Prior to 1922-1923, when colleges began using radio broadcast (Walden University, 2011), distance learning was synonymous with correspondence courses. Until technologies existed to allow students to interact with instructors, distance learning was one-way with all of the information flowing from instructor to student. As new technologies facilitate additional means of interaction and evaluation, the definition of distance learning will probably change again.


Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Simonson, M., Distance Education: The Next Generation [Online video]. Retrieved January 4, 2011, from

Walden University. (2011). Distance Learning Timeline Continuum [Flash Application]. Retrieved January 9, 2011, from


One Response to “Defining Distance Learning”

  1. IDTMania Says:

    Joseph, I am following your blogs for project management course. I look forward to learning and sharing relevant information with you.

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