In the early days of online learning tools, you could pretty much use the terms online learning and distance learning interchangeably. Not so today. Online learning and distance learning no longer mean the same thing. What is the difference between online learning and distance learning?
Online learning and online learning tools simply means that the source of the tool you and your students are using is Web-based or cloud-based. In other words, you access the tool via the Internet. It is anytime, anywhere, which certainly includes working from home. But that is not it’s primary function. Rather, it’s a bonus.
Instead, online learning tools are typically a staple of a blended learning environment. Online learning tools are more often used IN the classroom during class time. Not for the entire class time, mind you… No matter how interactive and media-rich your online learning tool is, who wants to stare at a computer screen for 45 minutes straight? As part of a blended learning environment, students use online learning for a portion of class time just as they might also engage in class discussion, skills practice, lecture, and projects.
Distance learning relies on online learning. That is true. But the concept is completely different. Merriam-webster.com defines distance learning as “education that takes place via electronic media linking instructors and students who are not together in a classroom.”
Wikipedia makes the distinction that “distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason (including taking examinations) have been referred to as hybrid or blended courses of study.” The distinction? If any part of your course requires face time with a student, it’s NOT distance learning.
So you can see that both online learning and distance learning require similar online learning tools, but there the similarity ends. Distance learning is more about the geography. Online learning is more about the method. Online learning is a key part of any blended learning classroom.