We explain what distance education is, its characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. Also, what is blended education?

What is distance education?

Distance education is a form of teaching that is carried out remotely , that is, there is no physical academic environment in which students and teachers meet, but schools teach through a channel that is usually virtual , like the internet .

This type of education emerged as an alternative for students who could not take an undergraduate degree , a course or a postgraduate degree in person due to time constraints or geographical distance. Thus, distance education allows people from different parts of the planet to access a varied educational offer.

The first forms of access to distance education were through correspondence, radio and television, but at the end of the 20th century, education was given way almost exclusively through the Internet. This implies that currently one of the necessary conditions to access distance education is having a computer or electronic device with an internet connection available.

Remote education through the internet uses video calling and messaging platforms, websites and applications to establish a contact channel between students and teachers, who carry out the entire educational process (teaching, feedback, evaluation) virtually.

Distance education can be given at school, university, postgraduate or courses in general and is characterized by offering great flexibility in learning and requiring commitment and responsibility on the part of students.

Origin and evolution of distance education

Origin and evolution of distance education

Although distance education is one of the educational offerings that has grown the most in recent times , the first options of this type emerged in Western Europe and North America during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The distance educational offer of the time offered content by correspondence and allowed courses to be taken from any geographic location. After the creation of radio, and after television, courses and careers began to be taught through these two mass media.

After World War II, distance education became popular among the European and North American population, given the need for individuals to acquire knowledge or develop skills to be able to enter the labor market.

This type of education also included the use of the telephone , which served as a means of support in the educational process. Then came the cassettes and videocassettes with content in audio and video format, which functioned as supports for distance education.

With the emergence and subsequent success of computers, distance education began to be carried out through floppy disks and virtual encyclopedias , but it was not until the later development of the Internet that distance education became massive.

Thus, existing distance education methods were put aside and e-mail , videoconferencing and virtual platforms began to be used to deliver educational content to a large portion of the world's population.

Characteristics of distance education

Characteristics of distance education

The main characteristics of distance education are:

  • Physical distancing . There is a physical separation between teacher and student within the entire educational process. This allows people from different geographical locations to access a varied educational offer.
  • Use of electronic media . Virtual platforms, digital books, online notes, access to tutors, videos and audiovisual material are used to transmit knowledge. For this, an internet connection is essential, which allows access to the media or platforms on which the contents are found.
  • Use of tutoring and student support . On certain occasions, students have an online tutor that helps them evacuate doubts during the learning process. Students establish contact with their tutors through email or virtual platforms.
  • Independent learning . In this type of education the student is responsible for the organization of their study time. In some cases, you must attend scheduled classes on a specific day and time.
  • Flexible hours . The student can access the contents or take virtual classes or work at the time available.
  • Two-way communication . The teaching platforms allow two-way communication (between teacher and student) and communication between peers for the preparation of practical online work, video conferences, among others.
  • Technological focus . The distance education system is supported by technological advances that allow the evolution of this teaching methodology.
  • Time optimization . Each student freely uses his time and way of study. This allows to expand the demand of students since they should not suspend their daily activities to attend an institution.
  • Lower cost . Remote education implies a lower cost for educational institutions because it dispenses with classrooms or printed material. In addition, the courses that are taught are usually cheaper than the face-to-face ones and the student saves time and money by not having to move from one place to another.
  • Massive reach . The overcrowding of the internet allowed anyone with a computer and an internet connection to access various educational options, such as courses or postgraduate courses from different geographical locations. However, the current digital divide that exists in the world means that not all the population has access to this type of education.

Advantages and disadvantages of distance education

Some of the main advantages of distance education are:

  • It allows access to the educational offer from any geographic location.
  • It usually offers a more accessible and varied offer than face-to-face education.
  • It offers multiple platforms and applications to transmit and access knowledge and to carry out work collaboratively.
  • It offers flexibility because the student can take classes at a time and place that suits them.
  • Allows learning in the use of virtual platforms.
  • It helps the development of virtues such as responsibility and organization, since students must take charge of their educational process.
  • It allows the use of dynamic teaching methods using different audiovisual tools and supports.
  • It allows the constant training of students.

Some of the main disadvantages of distance education are:

  • Internet access is needed, so many people can be excluded from this type of education.
  • It hinders the student's social interaction with their peers and can lead to social isolation. This happens, above all, in the school stage.
  • It is not entirely efficient in manual or technical subjects or disciplines, in which face-to-face is essential.
  • It involves the adaptation of teachers and students to virtual tools and platforms.
  • It makes it difficult to teach psychomotor skills.
  • Reduces student-teacher interaction.
  • It hinders the process of evaluating students.
  • It requires a quiet environment within the home so that the student can take classes or carry out their homework.

Means and supports for distance education

Means and supports for distance education

Some of the platforms or means that distance education uses are:

  • E-mail . This medium is used as a communication channelbetween the student and the teacher or the educational institution. Allows you to send and receive slogans, documents, links, audiovisual material, work and any type of file.
  • Platform . Portals are used, which function as virtual workspaces, where students and teachers meet to make use of tools such as messaging, file sharing, evaluations, among others. The platforms can be created exclusively by the educational institution or online platforms such as Moodle, Swad or Google Classroom can be used.
  • Video classes . Video calling applications are used in which virtual meetings are held, attended by students and teachers. These classes can be given synchronously or they can be recorded so that students can watch them at any time.
  • Audios . Audio files are used to send a certain content so that students can listen to it and from there carry out with that information what the teacher requires.
  • Videos . Audiovisual material is used to transmit certain content. These videos can be uploaded and viewed from the internet or they can be sent through a channel such as email or chat.
  • Forums . Online platforms are used in which information and opinions on different topics are discussed or shared. In most cases it occurs asynchronously.
  • Chats . Online messaging applications are used as a means of communication to send content, communicate with the student or schedule meetings.
  • Blogs . Websites specialized in different subjects are used that upload periodic content and that allow user feedback.
  • Virtual encyclopedias . Websites are used that offer content on different topics and to which students can go for information.

Blended education

Along with face-to-face education and distance education, there is another option, which is blended education, which consists of a learning modality that combines face-to-face and remote education . Students who take a course or degree in a blended way receive some content or subjects virtually and others in person.

This can happen, for example, when in a university career the theoretical subjects are received remotely and the practicals in the classroom. It may also happen that a large part of the subjects are taken virtually and the institution is attended in specific cases such as group exhibitions, evaluations, tutorials, among others.

In other cases, some courses or careers that are taught in person also offer a blended version , which allows the adherence of students who, due to time or geographical distance, cannot comply with the total presence of the original course.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Luke is passionate about fostering student involvement and connection. He studied psychology for his major and likes learning about the past. Luke aims to specialize in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. .

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