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Major differences between Online Learning and Distance Education

Lt. Mayank Mittal | July 21, 2021 3 Min Read

As education turns digital, there may be a lot of confusion in the terms and methodologies used. Resultantly, online learning and distance education have become common buzzwords that people use interchangeably. But did you know that online learning is not the same as distance education?


So if you are gearing up for an MBA or BCA through distance education, consider these primary differences between Online Learning and Distance Education before making a choice:


As per the University Grants Commission (Open and Distance Learning Programmes and Online Programmes) Regulations, 2020 –

“Online Mode” means a mode of providing flexible learning opportunities by overcoming separation of teacher and learner using internet, e-Learning Materials and full-fledged programme delivery through the internet using technology assisted mechanism and resources.

“Open and Distance Learning Mode” means a mode of providing flexible learning opportunities by overcoming separation of teacher and learner using a variety of media, including print, electronic, online and occasional interactive face-to-face meetings with the learners or Learner Support Services to deliver teaching-learning experiences, including practical or work experiences.


As the name indicates, online learning follows a purely online approach where all the students attend virtual classes that are held as per schedule. An instructor virtually oversees these classes and helps students navigate through the digital lessons and assignments. Assessments and examinations are also conducted digitally through the Learning Management System (LMS). Thus, online mode is not location-specific and only relies on the online availability of students and instructors.

On the other hand, distance education may or may not have online elements. Rather, it follows a mix of everything from print and electronic to face-to-face interactions. Typically, the students study and prepare at home and are required to travel to test centres for examinations. In some cases, they may even have to show up occasionally for in-person classes or practicals at Learner Support Centre. All in all, location does play a role when it comes to distance education.


The nature of teacher-student and student-student interactions also vary between Online Learning and Distance Education. As stated above, online learning programmes normally rely on well-defined modules and virtual classes. They also follow a more interactive pattern. Whether it is group activities or one-on-one assignments, they are more engaging as they follow a blended digital learning model. Additionally, there are forums and groups where students can interact with and learn from each other.

Interactions in distance education happens during face-to-face classes or practical sessions at Learner Support Centre but very limited way. In remote areas, this interaction becomes even more sparse due to the unavailability of resources and infrastructure. You may find online groups and forums where students may get in touch with fellow learners, but they’re few and scattered.

Teaching methodology

Online Learning is designed to replicate in-class learning in a virtual arena. The teaching methodologies in this online degree programme are closely related to what one would experience had they attended regular offline classes. Online programmes for MBA or MCA adopt blended teaching techniques to mix things up and make learning fun and enjoyable.

In the case of distance education, the teaching methodology is often cut and dry. You get the study material, and you learn from it as per your pace. Some distance courses may share videos through thumb drives to teach the learners, but overall, the teaching methodology is less interactive in comparison.

Learning material

Online mode incorporates the sharing of materials in the digital format. Universities create online data repositories that contain all the learning material. This information may also be integrated with dedicated learning apps for online courses. Additionally, the entire module is gamified to capture the learner’s interests.

Distance education still relies heavily on physical study material such as books. These books are often couriered or sent through post to the learner.


Online mode of learning has clear advantages over distance education in many ways. For starters, when one opts for, say, an online MBA for working professionals, they can enjoy the self-paced aspect of learning without any trade-off in the immersive classroom experience. So, Online learning is inarguably the way to go!

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