In the simplest terms, distance learning, is learning at a distance from the person doing the teaching. In other words, the person who is learning is not in the same place the teacher is. There are many people who assume that distance learning is online learning. Others use the term E-learning to mean distance learning. In fact, distance learning includes online learning and e-learning as well as some other types of learning. Distance learning evolves to accommodate various requirements that learners have. Much distance learning today uses e-learning and online learning because many people have computers readily available and wish to use them for learning. However, there are still many people who need other methods of distance education to be provided to them.
There are various ways that this has been accomplished over the years. Before the widespread use of technology, correspondence courses were the most common method used for distance education. The student would purchase the textbook, and the materials such as course notes, exercises or problems, and assignments were sent to the student by mail. The student completed the readings, exercises and assignments at home and sent the assignment to the instructor by mail. Examinations were completed close to the student's home with a proctor. As technology advanced, sometimes these correspondence courses included audio tapes or video tapes as part of the learning package. Radio, telephone, television, and even short-wave radio have also been used to provide learning for students at a distance from an educational institution. The advent of computers generated the use of CD's, fax, and e-mail for course delivery, and eventually led to the use of online and e-learning courses. Today many people use online and e-learning courses for learning at all levels from informal learning to PHD's in every subject. These online courses can make use of up-to-date technology such as telecommunications and video-conferencing to enable teachers and students to communicate and to learn in real time.
In today's world any or all of these methods of delivering distance learning are combined to make learning accessible to people anywhere in the world. Online and e-learning are the most common types of distance learning today but many universities and other organizations offer courses in multiple formats. That allows them to accommodate distance learners who have computer access, internet access, or only telephone, television, or mail access. For instance, in Australia, two way radios may still be used in some remote regions to educate children but the use of satellite interactive schooling is now being used to augment some of those courses and is beginning to replace those courses. Radio and television are being used in some of the developing countries but the trend there is also to online learning as computers become available to more of the population. The method used to deliver distance learning will continue to evolve with the evolution of the technology but the fact is that distance learning makes it possible to study today in any remote location in the world.