In today’s digital era, terms such as ‘online learning’ and ‘distance learning’ have become prevalent, with their meanings often used interchangeably. While both options offer a great deal of flexibility to its learner, there are some noteworthy differences between the two, and this article will help differentiate between them.
Distance learning or Distance education is a term used to refer to students who do not have to be physically present at a school, college or university in order to attain an education. Its origins are college correspondence courses whereby education materials were posted to the student, with the majority – if not all – of the course learnt through a postal correspondence between the student and the educational institution. For the history buffs, the first modern day correspondence course was shorthand taught over postcards, an initiative in the 1840’s run by Sir Issac Pitman. Today, distance learning is frequently used as a catch-all term to refer to online learning despite differences between the two.
While most distance learning courses do have an online study component and include access to online learning materials, the key difference is that they often have workshops, summer schools or ‘residentials’ attached to the degree programme. As a result, a more suitable term for these types of degree courses is Blended Learning or Flexible Learning degrees. For example, the University of Northampton MBA programme allows students to access the full online library of resources from the University of Northampton, but also includes optional MBA weekend workshops for those that prefer a personal, face-to-face interaction to their study.
Online learning courses are 100% online, providing students with an incredible amount of flexibility in choosing where they learn, when they learn and even how they learn. With Online Learning courses, students have access to a virtual platform – such as Moodle, Collaborate or Blackboard – that is hosted with pre-recorded lectures, student resources and e-books. This is in addition to the full digital library that a University houses.
This learning platform, commonly termed as a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) allows for interactive learning tools such as discussion forums, group projects or online self-test quizzes to keep students both engaged in the content, as well as encourage interaction with their fellow peers. Given how much of today’s working environment requires facilitation through online correspondence, an Online MBA or Online Masters Degree is an excellent way to learn essential communication skills by proxy.
A very common misconception with Online Learning courses is that students are left entirely on their own accord to get through the programme without additional support or academic assistance. This is untrue as reputable universities provide UK tutor support to students undertaking the degree programme and can be contacted over email or Skype when required.
Stafford Global offers an Online MBA from Edinburgh Napier University UK. Its Virtual Learning Environment is complemented with comprehensive tutorial support; a personal UK tutor offers advice regarding assessments, assignment feedback, answers questions etc., – no different to full-time students.
Regardless of study preference one thing is true between Distance Learning and Online Learning: one must be disciplined and self-motivated, both very useful skills to cultivate in life.