Distance Education: Term Definition

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Many spheres of the contemporary life in our world are under a massive influence of globalization. The appearance of the Internet connection has made many things and processes easy to access and improved the speed of life greatly. Today we do not need to go to a bank to pay for something, we can speak to people from all around the world, shop, arrange trips, handle business and even develop romantic interests without leaving out own apartments. The process of globalization has affected education too. It became more flexible, more accessible, and more independent. New approaches to learning made it easier for people from all around the world to enter various educational facilities, do the courses, improve the qualification and gain necessary knowledge.

The advantage of distance education is, of course, its accessibility to students of all kinds, ages, qualifications. The availability of the distance education has increased with the appearance of the Internet courses, online programs and special techniques, which allow the instructors to keep the students motivated and active throughout the whole course. There are also some challenges the instructors and the students that receive distant education have to face. The statistics show that there is a high chance of loss of motivation and interests towards the learning process if it is not well-managed. This is why the strategies and techniques for distance education have been researched and tested in order to find the best activities to keep the learners’ interest and desire to proceed and explore. Many teachers and instructors started to use experimental techniques and activities to keep the learning maximized. Some of these strategies and approaches have a large potential and can be applied to many different programs and courses. There is a system that allows evaluating the effectiveness of distance education. In standard schools the students’ average daily attendance is counted based on the time the students spend in the classroom during the studies. In the distance education courses the number of hours per each module is determined. In order to move from one module or unit of instruction to another one a student has to complete its tasks and pass a credit or a test. This approach allows the student to have feedback and be aware of own level of performance during the course, adjust and improve. The evaluation of the student is not based on the amount of time they spent at the classroom (What Is Distance Learning? 2011).

There are two different types of distance learning. These types are based on the categories of delivery system they rely on during the work process. These categories are called synchronous and asynchronous. The application of synchronous system requires the participation of all students and instructors at the same time. This is the so-called “real time” interaction. The system is based on high responsiveness and active work of all members. These types of classes include teleconferences and online chats. They may need a video or can be conducted by means of typing. These types of learning normally have a high speed of communication, immediate replies and questions; lessons based on these techniques keep the learners active and focused.

Asynchronous system of knowledge delivery is not based on the immediate responses and simultaneous presence and interaction between the students and the instructors. Within the asynchronous system the learners are able to chose and schedule their own classes. The interactions between the students and the instructors will be based on that schedule. This approach towards learning process allows more flexibility, though, according to the statistical data, this system also has its flaws. The researchers found that this flexibility sometimes destroys the focus of the learners and stands on the way of active participation. This type of knowledge delivery organization lacks discipline and control, which is very important to maintain the students’ motivation and desire to keep on working on the course. Most of the students fail to develop proper schedules and stick to them in order to show needed level of participation. The courses of this type are represented by recorded lectures, audio and video lessons and tutorials, and electronic mail courses. Media contents such as YouTube are widely used for this type of learning. The teachers post their lectures and motivational speeches there so that the students could access this material at any time and gain the knowledge. Some of the lectures include power point presentations and flash cards for easier comprehension.

The successful management of distance learning activities is based on having a clear plan for the assignments. The activities that include participation of several people can easily be driven off the right direction and never achieve the planned result or important outcome or fit the learning objective the activity initially was designed to fulfill. The activity has to answer the questions such as “what are you doing?” and “why are you doing it?”. The activity has to have a clear structure. Besides, the group of participants also has to be selected, the roles need to be assigned. The introduction of the activity is highly important; it shapes the future interest of the students towards this task. Moreover, the evaluation of the participants must be done separately based on the individual performances of the learners and the contributions each of them made to the results of the whole group (Millis n. d.). The activities must follow the learning objectives of the course and further them. Besides, the students must be clear about the value and the purpose of the proposed activities, this is why the instructor has to provide very precise instructions and answer the questions. Another important factor for the success of a group activity is the size of the group. It is a well known fact that a smaller group is easier to control, guide and manage.

Collaborative group activities are very helpful. They increase the effectiveness of the learning process. The students learn through communication, discussion and have an ability to empower each other intellectually. One more very important feature of the co-operative activities is the fact that it has the capacity to reduce the feeling of isolation on the sides of the students (Bard 2006). The students participating in distant learning undergo the pressure of isolation and it is very important that sometimes the course and the instructor help alleviate this feeling. The instructor of the course based on distant learning may be working with the peers that represent different cultures and come from different parts of the world. The instructor should be determined to create a collaborative learning community. Group activities are great tools that can assist with the achievement of this goal. In the very beginning of the course the instructor may launch several icebreaker activities that will help bring the learners closer and create a warmer atmosphere. The introduction of students to each other may be done by means of a blog, where the learners will post photos of themselves tell short stories, describing their personalities, comment each other’s posts. This provides the students with graphic communication (Hopkins 2009). Another good icebreaking activity is to suggest the students a discussion of what they would buy for some certain large sum of money, their answers will work as description of their personalities and ways of thinking. The instructor could also ask them to attach links of pictures of the objects they would like to purchase.

The purposes and goals of activities for distance and web-based learning are varied. Generally, the activities could be divided in to several categories. First one includes the activities that have the main purpose of creating and includes such tasks as improvement, development, planning, and preparation. The next category is evaluation where the students need to make conclusions, judge or criticize, prioritize. Then comes the category of analysis, here the learners need to identify connections between course elements, categorize, inspect or differentiate. The category of application of knowledge and skills includes calculations and solutions. Understanding is performed through comparisons, summaries and classifications. Finally, remembering requires descriptions, explanations and listing (Ideas for Learning Activities which Can Be Used in Distance Learning n. d.).

The activities for distant learning can be done though many different strategies, the instructor’s creativity plays a big role in the way the learning material will be presented. For example, the instructor may suggest a case study to the learners. The case can be real or fictional. The students will have to explore different outcomes and make conclusions. The instructor can employ an investigation activity; the students will ask questions in order to find out more details, research and analyze and then solve the problem. Discussions and debates are ones of the most popular ways to organize a group activity for distance learning, this activity is good because students share their opinions and argue about points of views, this helps deepen their understanding of the learning material. Another interesting and creative approach to a group activity is creating a virtual field trip. The group is offered exploring a place they have never been to, find information, make a research. The instructor can propose a simulation, which is a logical game that re-creates a real-life scenario and the members of the group act according to their roles. The ideas for these creative activities can be found on websites like webquest.org, 42explore2.com, or ThinkQuest. The activity called web-quest is designed to encourage the learners to look for information online and use various sources of information. In this case a website like Quora is going to be very helpful, because there a student can find qualified opinions from professionals of different fields.

The variety of types of activities that can be used for distance education is huge. The instructors are the ones to decide which ways are more convenient for them and more interesting for their students. Properly organized group activities are able to create effective collaboration between the members of the group and the instructor, intellectually empower and motivate the participants and keep the learners focused and active throughout the working process.

Reference List

Bard, T. B. (2006). Cooperative Activities in Interactive Distance Learning. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 37(1), 2-10.

Hopkins, D. (2009). Online Induction: Icebreaker Activities. Web.

Ideas for Learning Activities which Can Be Used in Distance Learning (n. d.). WLV. Web.

Millis, B. (n. d.). Managing – and Motivating! – Distance Learning group Activities. Web.

What Is Distance Learning? (2011). CDLPonline. Web.

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