Learning online is obviously different from the traditional method of one-to-one teaching. This includes different education options such as distance learning, online learning, and e-learning. You must have often come across these terms without having a clear idea whether they are the same or different from each other. Actually, they all have some similarities but differ due to their own characteristics. So let’s identify more about these different methods of learning.

Factors That Differentiate These Learning Modes

Although these terms basically give away the idea of students learning from a distant location via the internet, there are certain differences among them. These terms have their unique meanings and should not be used interchangeably. The following are the main features that determine the difference between distance learning, online learning, and e-learning.

  • Type of access: This includes text, electronic formats, and other online platforms
  • Type of media: Includes printed media, online learning resources, audio, and video
  • Type of interaction: This describes either in-person, virtual, or independent from any interaction

To understand these differences better, you need to go through each of these learning methods indicated below. Although they may sound quite similar, they have significant differences in the method of delivery and interaction between the students and tutors.

Distance Learning

Distance education is where the students don’t need to be present physically at the educational institute. There are various distance learning programs available in various schools and universities. You can find distance learning degrees in all undergraduate, postgraduate, and doctorate levels. At present, these courses have an online study component that involves online learning materials.

Distance learning offers cheaper education and is hence ideal for anyone looking for education at a low cost. You don’t need to move into a new city and save a lot of money as these courses are always cheaper. Distance learning is also the oldest version of these learning modes. It was a popular way before the technology and internet came into existence.

The history of this method dates back to two hundred years to the start of printed media. The teaching was done through the mailing of printed learning resources. This made it possible for students to learn far away from their education providers. The first correspondence course was a shorthand system that was taught over postcards.

Online Learning

Online education is where the whole course is completely carried out online. This allows flexible and independent studying environments for the students. They can determine what they learn, how and when the lessons are done. These classes are conducted online but never in person. The students and tutors interact in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Students also have access to recorded lecture videos and eBooks. The notes are also shared with students in PDF versions.

Students can raise questions at interactive sessions and discussion forums. There are also group projects and quizzes to keep the students engaged. This also helps in peer interaction which reduces isolation caused by online learning. Overall, it is an ideal way to improve personal skills with a selection of a wide range of courses to choose from.

There is a common misconception that online learning doesn’t provide enough support for learners. Online education-providing institutions have a major focus on both the academic and non-academic well-being of their students. There are even special student support teams for all sorts of issues ranging from simple technical failures to personal matters. You can learn more about this by referring to Support for online learning.


E-Learning or electronic learning is another unique mode of learning that is equally used as online learning. This is a form of distance learning where different forms of electronic media are used as online learning resources. The learning platforms differ from one program to another. Methods of instruction come in CD ROMs, intranet, internet, audio, and video formats. As technology develops, the methods of eLearning also change accordingly. Even though the students and teachers are on the same premises, they communicate only through online means. Students can use offline materials to send responses but can connect with their tutors online only.

E-Learning makes the lessons more interesting and interactive. It is convenient for adult learners to engage in during their free time. The learner can participate in this at their own pace since the learning materials can be accessed from wherever they are. So they don’t need to worry about falling behind or moving ahead of the rest of the class.

As you have now distinguished the three main types of learning, you can have a better idea when referring to the mode of delivery of online courses. Make sure to check further details about the courses regarding the interacting platforms and specific terminology. Pick the best learning mode depending on your requirements and personal preference. Here are some of the other terms you may come across when referring to the types of learning.

Virtual Learning

Virtual learning allows the students to interact with other students and teachers to share learning materials and discuss through video conferencing. ezTalks Cloud Meeting or Skype are the commonly used platforms for this. Students can attend these sessions at the time of the session or refer to the recorded lessons later on. Hence, virtual learning can be used inside or outside the building of the institute.

Blended Learning

This is a type of virtual learning which combines both traditional in-person learning and online learning. Thus, there are two sources for this mode of learning. Students need to follow a fixed study schedule in attending the classes at the educational institute. Additionally, they can schedule their timetable to get instructions from a remote tutor through a virtual interactive platform.

Digital Learning

Digital learning is a combination of online learning, eLearning, and blended learning. It is a modern method of distant learning. It also has offline digital learning that uses digital cameras and video conferences to deliver the lessons to the students.

What are Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning?

This is another concept that is often referred to when talking about online learning. Synchronous learning refers to the situation where the students and the tutor are engaged together. These are often live sessions conducted online or face-to-face in the traditional method. Everything else, including pre-recorded lectures, self-studying, and referring to online learning resources is considered asynchronous learning. Online learning is mostly asynchronous but may have synchronous elements as well, depending on the institution and the type of courses followed.

Read More about Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

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