What Is Online Learning?

Defining Online Learning

There is no single definition for online learning. It includes learning with the assistance of the Internet and a personal computer. The term e-learning, or electronic learning, often is used interchangeably with online learning.

DLI's online learning can consist of both real-time interactions, with the use of virtual meeting tools like Collaborate Ultra, as well as interactions, which occur over extended periods of time, such as email or an online discussion board. Your courses will be broken up into modules that contain the learning content and activities you will have to complete. Each module usually begins with text readings, PowerPoint, and lectures that provide the information you will need to complete the assignments. The learning activities may vary in each module and might include discussions, scenarios, simulations, projects, or papers.

The important benefit of online learning is that it can span time and distance. You do not have to be in the same place as your teacher to obtain course related information. Even if you are attending a traditional course, when the instructor uses Blackboard, you can have anywhere, anytime access to your course documents along with consistent interaction with your classmates and teacher.

Where Does Online Learning Fit in Education?

Customarily, online learning falls under the broader category of distance education. Distance education is defined by the United States Distance Learning Association as an "education program whereby students may complete all or part of an educational program in a geographical location apart from the institution hosting the program; the final award given is equivalent in standard and content to an award program completed on campus." Typically, students and teachers reside in different locations; a physical classroom is not necessary. Therefore, the teaching and learning process relies on the Internet and a personal computer.

Evolution of Distance Learning

Whether you recognize it or not, students and teachers have benefited from the flexibility of distance learning for decades. Many of us may recall our first distance learning experiences involving television as the instructional medium. For instance, Sesame Street® has been a powerful means of teaching us social, mathematical, and speaking skills for over forty years. In the past decade, with increasingly widespread access to computers and the Internet, online learning has become a consistent presence at all levels of education.

As businesses, school districts, colleges and universities have become "wired," online learning has evolved beyond pure distance learning. The ability for learners to extend communication and access resources outside of their school or work environments, allows them to supplement - and sometimes fully replace - activities once reserved for the traditional classroom or workplace.