Are distance learning, online learning and e-Learning the same?


Are distance learning, online learning and e-Learning the same?If you're considering education options, you may have heard terms such as online learning, e-Learning and distance learning and wondered if they're the same. They're similar in that they all allow students to learn in a distant location from an instructor. While some might use these terms interchangeably, these types of learning are each unique. The particular features that tend to differentiate these learning modes are:

  • Type of access: Includes text, electronic formats and online
  • Type of media: Includes print, audio and video
  • Type of interaction: Includes in-person, virtual and independent

Within each learning mode, you may have options for pacing instructional material.

Distance learning

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

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.

Consider how earning an alternative education could benefit you: many learning modes are available for a variety of educational needs.

About Anjali Desai

Subscribe to our Newsletter