What is distance learning?

What is distance learning?

Distance education is the practice of moving a learning process, formerly face-to-face, online, usually on a temporary basis.

Although there is no single definition of distance education, nor is there a single definition of game-based learning, the general idea is generally consistent: a temporary displacement of face-to-face teaching in a physical classroom to a digital space accessible " remotely ".

For teachers, this means reconfiguring units and lessons to work with online teaching strategies, while developing new learning materials optimized for online teaching.

For students, this means that you will use new tools to learn more or less the same "things". There are pros and cons to this, as you may have already learned.

Now, a bit of context.

The definition of distance education

Both asynchronous and synchronous learning are considered types of online learning, but most physical classrooms are technically "synchronous", while a self-directed learning environment in which students learn "independently" from each other - especially the same content - would be technically asynchronous".

Distance learning is, therefore, a kind of synchronous learning. If the meaning of the word "remote" is clear, there is more to understand. Why not just call it online teaching or "distance learning"? The phrase "distance learning" implies its temporary nature, i.e. it had to take a traditional classroom and move it online.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has put an emphasis on remote teaching and learning as a result of school closures around the world. In a very short period of time, schools had to adapt their existing teaching and learning process and all of its components (i.e., curriculum, assessment, and instruction) to the space of online learning.

Of course, this situation is not ideal and illustrates this shortcoming well. Courses designed for online use can be created to take advantage of the benefits of online learning and teaching while accommodating its drawbacks. Imagine how difficult — and not ideal — it would be to take an online course and turn it almost overnight into a series of in-person units, lessons, and activities. That would, of course, be clumsy and absurd.

But when a school is forced to "move" the "classroom" online for an extended period of time, compromises have to be made. Distance learning is about teachers doing their best to reorganize an entire school year's work into one online space — sometimes multiple online spaces using tools they can't always choose — all by adjusting everything so that it is accessible to everyone in the class (now distant).*

The challenges to achieving this are monumental. Doing it over a long period of time, with the limited tools and resources that most teachers have, just isn't viable, but that's a topic for another day.

Conclusion on the definition of distance education

For now, let's revisit the definition of distance learning by examining what it is not:

  • It is not simply "distance education", because although it takes place at "distance", distance education is characterized by this distance, while "distance education" involves a "usually close" teaching and learning that now takes place separately.
  • Nor is it e-learning. Although he uses e-learning as a strategy (his central strategy), it is not a process designed for distance or e-learning platforms.

In other words, distance education uses e-learning tools to power distance learning for students who, for some reason, cannot be in the classroom.

In some cases, it may be a single student who cannot access a classroom and is forced into remote learning. This student (like the students in the examples above) may use a virtual classroom, but this usage uses online learning tools and platforms to replicate the classroom experience as closely as possible.

And that's probably the best way for most people to think of remote learning: as a temporary way for a class to stay together and continue learning while physically apart.