The oldest of these three learning models, distance learning (or distance education) has a long history that goes back two hundred years. Of course, this education begins with teaching through print media, before the Internet. Educational access for students far from a certain university became possible, simply through correspondence by mail. For this reason, the overarching term distance learning can include correspondence education. If possible, instruction may infrequently be provided in person for some programs.
Online learning is considered to be a form of distance learning. Beginning in the 1980s, this method allows a variety of learners to experience connectivity, convenience and interaction. Perhaps a more feedback-oriented version of distance learning, online learning makes use of the Internet to connect students with educational material, as well as instructors and sometimes other students. This personal interaction might not be as readily available as in the other learning modes.
A few different types of pacing may be available in online learning: instructor-led, self-directed or self-paced. In line with the traditional classroom model, many of these types of courses are instructor-led. Self-directed learning is the most flexible type of pacing. Students work independently, direct their education and manage their own progress. Self-paced learning allows students to have flexibility in terms of time and place of learning.
While e-Learning (electronic learning) is its own unique mode of learning, it is also a type of distance learning. Though it may have become a term at about the same time as online learning, it can be defined as sometimes including multiple formats and methods of instruction – CD-ROM, the Intranet, the Internet and audio and video formats. This learning methodology may vary the most, since program to program platforms and media differ. As technology continues to evolve, e-Learning also changes.
Now that you know what distinguishes these types of learning, make sure to check with prospective programs for further details on learning modes and platforms. Specific terminology may vary by school.