In the age of the internet and the personal computer, the phrase "online education" is heard regularly in regard to schooling at nearly every level. It has changed the concept of teaching and learning as we know it. In today's world, the internet can be used as the primary means of instruction and assessment.

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Online education refers to the process of taking a course, earning a degree or participating in any other kind of educational endeavor via internet connection rather than in person.

What Is the Online Education Definition?

Online education encompasses a tremendous number of topics, subject areas, disciplines and degree programs. In its broadest terms, online education simply means acquiring knowledge through the use of instruction provided via the internet. More specifically, this education is acknowledged to be pedagogical rather than self-selected. In other words, reading an article about birds in a periodical online wouldn't be classified as "online education," but enrolling in a video course about ornithology given by a teacher would be considered online education.

What Does Online Education Look Like?

The online class definition has changed over several years, and in terms of format, the online learning definition can take many forms. Some online educational programs are conducted exclusively through assigned lessons and assessments administered online. Others take the form of remote lectures where students join the class via the cameras on their laptops, and the instructor teaches or lectures from his own computer. Other courses are a combination of the two, requiring students to do a fair amount of independent research.

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In some cases, video lectures may be prerecorded, allowing students the opportunity to access the courses on their own time, which can be helpful for students who have a demanding work schedule or family obligations that would prevent them from attending a course in person at the same time every week. This is known as "asynchronous online learning."

The idea of online learning is believed to be spawned from the internet and digital technology, but the idea of it is quite old. In Britain in the 1700s, interested citizens were able to enroll in correspondence courses, where the instructor would send out materials and assignments, and students would complete them and mail them back to the instructor to be assessed.

What Is the E-Learning Definition?

While it sounds very similar to the online learning definition, e-education, or e-learning, is a different system of education that similarly uses technology to enrich or facilitate the learning process. In the case of e-learning, it is possible for the bulk of the instruction students receive to take place inside the classroom, but, generally speaking, assignments are completed or enhanced with the use of technological tools and the internet.

While many people in the field of education had long believed that the human element was critical for successful pedagogical instruction, it has been proven that e-learning is effective, particularly when training professionals regarding new software, materials, policies or advancements in their sector.

What Are the Benefits of Online Education?

Although the online course definition varies tremendously, e-education generally refers to the means of gathering knowledge or taking an assessment rather than the kind of coursework that leads to a degree or certification. Corporations favor e-learning as a means of getting employees up to speed on new systems, software or management tools.

E-learning means that employees are able to get the training they need when it is convenient for them and eliminates the requirement that they all be in the same place at the same time to receive the necessary training. This is especially useful for companies where employees are spread across time zones or continents. In this case, getting employees together is next to impossible, and imparting necessary information through e-education courses is a way to ameliorate the problem of distance.

As e-education developed, it went from being a content-delivery system of information from teachers to students and evolved along with the technology that supported it. Today, e-education's definition includes interactive tools that rely on the proliferation of mobile devices and Wi-Fi networks that are easily accessible and can support students or employees wherever they may be. As technology continues to develop, and as internet access becomes a more standard part of daily life for virtually all citizens, it is inevitable that the reach and scope of e-learning will develop as well.

What Is Online Study?

The definition of online study, much like the online learning definition, encompasses any sort of knowledge acquisition process that is facilitated by the use of technological tools or that takes place in large part via the internet. There are a number of reasons people might want to engage in an online study course that has very little to do with their interest in the internet.

One of the most popular reasons for engaging in an online study course is the flexibility it allows. Students who work full time or part time and do not have the opportunity to arrange their schedule around their courses appreciate the opportunity to complete coursework at their convenience.

Likewise, parents and people who are caring for family members and may have variables in their availability during the week can use online learning as an opportunity to advance their education on their own time without being a slave to a course schedule.

What Can Online Education Offer?

Those who live far from a school or university setting but still wish to gain the knowledge and information taught in university courses can access these materials on the internet from the comfort and convenience of their own homes. This makes online study a valuable resource not simply for the individual but for the collective society, as everyone benefits from an informed and educated citizenry.

Online study can be used to many ends. Online study is a method that can be employed when companies with scattered employees need to learn the same information or receive a particular sort of training. Online study can also be utilized in more traditional academic settings.

While disdain for online degrees characterized the early stages of online learning, universities with significant prestige and schools with renowned programs have begun to branch out into the realm of online education, seeking to make their mark in the world of web-based scholarship.

What Is Distance Learning?

Distance learning, which is also classified as distance education, is the process of learning something remotely. This means that a student may be in one place with the teacher in another, and the coursework and assignments are disseminated over the internet. Distance learning can also refer to situations where students attend courses in person but do their reading, assignments and assessments via computer. Distance learning is any kind of education that can take place regardless of the location of the student and teacher and is dependent only on access to the internet.

Another feature of distance learning is the broadcasting of lectures or course seminars. In situations like this, teachers will hook up a camera to the internet and broadcast their work in the classroom. Some students may be attending the lecture or seminar in person, but the students who are patched in remotely receive the same benefits and may participate in classroom discussions using a microphone and camera.

While distance learning does still have critics, there is no denying that it is an incredibly effective tool for getting instruction to people in remote places who would otherwise not be able to access the information being taught.

About the Author

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience writing about education for a variety of organizations and educational institutions as well as online media sites. She has written for Pearson Education, The University of Miami, The New York City Teaching Fellows, New Visions for Public Schools, and a number of independent secondary schools. She lives in Los Angeles.