Distance Learning vs Online Learning | Emeritus India

Distance Learning vs Online Learning: Key Differences

The remote delivery method of learning often leads to people getting confused between online education and distance education. The common tendency is to think of both as the same thing. However, there is a great deal of difference in the two methodologies on multiple parameters.

Distance education is not a novel concept, and it has been a popular method of learning for those who couldn’t attend regular colleges or institutions for various reasons. On the other hand, online education has become prominent in the digital era, courtesy of its easy and widespread reach.

Let’s look at both of them in detail.

Difference between Online Education and Distance Education

When online learning started, the focus was on building a virtual platform that enabled online teaching alongside regular classroom lessons. However, with the evolution of remote communication technologies and high-speed internet that facilitates seamless live-streaming of classes, one can pursue advanced  online certificate courses and even obtain degrees through online learning platforms without leaving home.

In recent years, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an incredible push for remote and online education. With digital coverage increasing, there will be greater growth for e-learning in India. However, there is a need to assess how digital education fares against distance education.

Let’s take a look at distance learning vs online learning:


Whether you choose online or distance education, if the institution fulfils the relevant rules, it is equivalent to similar full-time courses. This kind of legal acknowledgement has led to a broader choice of learning options for the people. However, certain rules are specific to each type of learning. For instance, online education providers have to be accredited with platforms such as SWAYAM, or other relevant authorities.

Course materials and pedagogy

In distance education, the study materials are sent by post oremail. Depending on the course, the content could be in hard copy, soft copy or a combination of both formats. Only assessment exams are scheduled, and there are no regular classes or schedules of study applicable to distance learning. The students are free to study at their own pace and convenience.

Student engagement

When we do a distance learning vs online learning comparison, it is evident that there is a lot of difference in the quality of student engagement. In distance education, students are responsible for their progress and have to decide their learning pace and evaluate the improvement. On the other hand, online classes are often held live, and there are various engagement methods such as chats, discussion forums, quizzes, Q n A rounds, and interactions among learners.
Top-of-the-line e-learning platforms would even offer virtual classrooms and mentoring sessions for students enrolling on courses. Thus, online education has two-way communication and a significantly greater learning experience.


In both methods, periodic assessments are necessary for the learning curve. In distance education, students must go to a designated exam centre in their town or region. In contrast, the exams are conducted virtually anytime, anywhere in the case of online education. Besides the final exams in courses that offer institutional certifications or degrees, online learners don’t have to appear for a pre-determined schedule of exams.

Quality of distance learning vs online learning

The quality depends upon the quality of the course content, delivery, expertise of teachers, instructors and effective evaluations. Distance education is a self-dependent method, and the learning process is not only dissimilar from one learner to another, but the quality also suffers in the longer run. Despite having course material that is per the guidelines, it is unlikely to address dynamic job market changes.

Diversity of learning options available :

This is one of the important points when discussing distance learning vs online learning. In distance learning, you would be able to opt for only specific educational or vocational courses such as graduation, certifications and diplomas in some streams etc. In comparison, a world-class online learning platform such as Emeritus would bring you a wide range of learning programs that cover almost every prominent area of skill and career enhancement.
Here are two of the best categories of online courses offered by Emeritus through its collaborations with leading universities and business schools in India and abroad:

Leadership and Management Courses – The continuously changing business landscape necessitates agility in leadership and management approaches. Therefore, upskilling and learning new skills, practices, and technology-driven approaches is essential to becoming a business leader and an efficient manager. Emeritus offers 27 certificate programmes in this area from the Indian Institutes of Management and other leading educational institutions.

Data Science and Analytics Courses – Many business leaders leverage data to take better decisions. With so much dependence on data, it is only natural that the preference for data analytics would lead to new jobs for data science exponents. Emeritus offers more than 20 certificate courses integrating data science and analytics to empower businesses in different industry verticals to achieve superior growth through data-driven insights.

Apart from these two, there are several other courses in IT, Finance, Human Resources, Sales and Marketing, Project Management, etc., ideal job-oriented courses after graduation for youngsters at an early stage in their professional lives or senior professionals.

Today’s rapid digital evolution has created an online education ecosystem that is much more important and relevant to people’s learning and skill development needs than ever before.

Distance education is a good option for those who wish to get educational qualifications such as schooling or graduation through government-accredited institutions. It has much lower student participation or active teacher-learner engagement. Further, there is no assurance of outcomes or accountability in distance education as there is hardly any pedagogy involved.

On the other hand, online education, like pursuing job-oriented courses after graduation or while working brings almost every type of vocational and core competencies necessary to succeed in the corporate world.

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