What Is Distance Learning? Types and Benefits

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Distance learning can be a convenient way to build skills and even earn a degree.

[Feature image] A person in a navy suit sits in a cafe and uses a laptop computer for distance learning.

Distance education has become a common choice for many learners and institutions. During the pandemic, the number of students registering for distance learning courses skyrocketed. Several universities and academic institutions have given opportunities to students to learn remotely. Before enroling in an online learning course, it is important to have a clear concept of this approach. We will define the different types of distance learning as well as outline its advantages and potential limitations.

What is distance learning?

Distance learning refers to the way of learning that does not require you to be present physically at the university or institution. Learning materials and lectures are available online. Learners can stay at their homes while taking the course from an online university or other institution. They will usually also have the opportunity to attend in-person workshops, residencies, or other learning components, but the material is primarily taught through online courses.

Two types of distance learning

There are two major categories of distance learning: synchronous and asynchronous.


Synchronous distance learning refers to the real-time delivery of lectures. You will have live communications with your teachers. This learning model needs teleconferencing and other similar technologies.

Synchronous distance learning allows for face-to-face contact with instructors and classmates. As such, however, it is not as flexible as some learners may desire since you have to encounter your teachers and classmates at the scheduled time. 


With asynchronous distance learning, learners advance through the curriculum at their own pace. You will receive weekly deadlines, and therefore, you can work at your desired speed and schedule.

There is no scheduled time for accessing the course content. However, you may interact through video comments, quizzes, and conversations.

Different modes involved in distance learning

Regardless of the type of distance education programme you enrol in, you are likely to encounter different ways of learning. These include video conferencing, hybrid learning, open-schedule courses, and fixed-time courses.

Video conferencing

Traditionally, video conferencing refers to the interactions between multiple participants via the internet. You may compare it to synchronous communication. Both students and teachers have to use tools like Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom, or Adobe Connect. Participants can continue their interactions anytime, anywhere.

Video conferencing is advantageous as it promotes learner-instructor interactions. It also helps in providing the lesson in a proper structure. It is one of the main components of every successful distance education programme.

Hybrid distance education

When you combine asynchronous and synchronous methods, it creates a hybrid version. Learners have to stick to deadlines to do their assignments and appear for tests. But one major advantage is that they can study at a convenient pace.

This learning approach involves online forums to submit assignments. As a learner, you need to maintain contact with your teacher. With the progress of your study, you will find new modules of your course. Learners who desire independence often prefer hybrid distance learning.

Online open-schedule courses

The open-schedule instructions belong to the asynchronous category. Learners get freedom while undergoing the course. During the educational programme, you will receive:

  • Bulletin boards

  • Online books

  • Emails

You have to follow the deadlines while undergoing the academic course. Still, you can maintain a comfortable pace to study the course. You may feel no stress due to this approach. But, to find the best outcome and achieve a high grade, you must have motivation and self-discipline.

Fixed-time virtual course

A fixed-time course is the most commonly chosen format for distance education. Learners access the learning website at the desired times. They have to accomplish pre-scheduled tasks to achieve success and get the certificate.

Benefits of distance education

Distance education provides you with a range of benefits. Consider these advantages as you decide whether to enrol in distance learning courses or degree programmes.


Many highly motivated and self-disciplined learners prefer distance educational programmes. They are well-organised and maintain their performance in the virtual setting. It affords you the flexibility of learning from any place at any time.


Some instructors customise distance education programmes to serve their academic needs. Learners will get the chance to learn the course in any way.

No need to travel

Distance learning does not require commuting to campus. At the same time, distance learners can take virtual trips to museums, geographical locations, planetariums, and other places. A virtual trip is fun, and learners enjoy it during the distance learning programme. With the interactive tools, learners can increase their engagement level.


Education that requires attendance in physical classrooms can present barriers to some learners. Distance education can help make learning accessible to those living with disability or geographic constraints, for example, since distance learning is accessible to learners from almost any place.

Save time and money

Distance education saves you precious time and money. You do not need to be concerned about the travel time or expenses to attend the classes. Course materials and tuition may be lower as well since there are fewer overhead costs involved as compared to in-person classes.

Who prefers distance education?

Today, several learners like to achieve educational qualifications with distance learning programmes. This includes college students, high school learners, and office goers.

Some companies also use distance education programmes to train workers. Most commonly, distance education is useful for:


  • Learners in rural zones who cannot attend offline classroom-based programmes classes 


  • International students who want to enrol in overseas universities without leaving their home country


  • Companies that rely on distance education programmes to train their workers


Does distance education have disadvantages?

Although distance education programmes are advantageous, you may find a few downsides. It’s important to be aware of distance learning’s potential challenges so that you can set yourself up for success.

Some learners claim that they feel distractions during the educational programme. Without direct interactions, learners may lose track and miss deadlines. You must also have a reliable computer and internet connectivity. Some instructors will ask you to buy a web camera. Slow internet service can cause frustrations like long load times and frozen  videos. 

Next steps

You may choose distance learning for degree programmes like master's, bachelor's, and doctoral. Busy professionals who do not have time to attend classes can rely on distance education to build new skills. You might find a difference in charges of the academic course since distance training is often a cost-effective choice, and you may enjoy it. 

You are Currently on slide 1

Enrol for free with Coursera in a course like The Science of Well-Being offered by Yale or Meta’s What is the Metaverse? to see if distance learning is a good fit for you. If you enjoy the experience, you can continue to learn and build job-ready skills with programmes like the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate.




Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.