Once interchangeable, these two terms today definitely indicate two distinctive types of learning.
Online learning and online learning tools simply means that the source of the tool the learner is using is web-based, cloud-based, or is generally available through the internet. It can be accessed anytime, anywhere (asynchronous). It can be a stand alone training experience or part of a blended learning experience.
These learning tools can also be used as part of instructor led training for a portion of class time, perhaps replacing reading and skill practice, and aligning with instructor led discussions and role playing/ case studies. Depending on how the eLearning is created, it might also double as a reference tool after the training is complete, or for sales and service people as a customer interface tool!
Distance learning is completely different. It is commonly defined as “education that takes place via electronic media linking instructors and students who are not together in a classroom.” Distance learning generally has a live aspect to it. Distance learning that requires on-site presence for any reason (including testing),or face time between instructor and student is referred to as hybrid or blended learning.
Distance learning is about the geography, whereas Online or eLearning is more about the mode or method. So how do you decide which of these options are best for your learning situation? That is where understanding your needs comes into play.
Questions to ask yourself could include: Can the learning result you require be achieved with only online learning? Would the cost of bringing learners to together out-weigh any future investment in eLearning revisions? Can blended learning be leveraged by offering eLearning prior to quarterly or annual meetings where additional instructor-led reinforcement training might take place?
Illumen is always available to help you brainstorm ideas, as you design the learning approach that works best for your brand, culture and geographical challenges.