The Rise of Distance Learning in Higher Education


“We need to bring learning to people instead of people to learning.” – Elliot Masie

The nature of education is constantly evolving. This is particularly apparent in the realm of higher education, as technology is constantly changing the way we think about learning. From how information is represented, to the accessibility of learning resources, technology has given us the ability to learn anything, from anywhere, at any time through elearning – and more specifically, distance learning. These advancements open new opportunities to individuals who normally wouldn’t have the resources to pursue a higher education.

Distance learning on the rise

Distance learning- noun
  • a method of studying in which lectures are broadcast or classes are conducted by correspondence or over the Internet, without the student’s needing to attend a school or college. Also called distance education.

Distance learning is a specific form of elearning in which students engage with their curriculum online and are not required to be present in a classroom setting. This differentiates distance learning from other teaching methodologies, such as blended learning, that incorporate elearning with in-person lectures and coursework.

students gain access to courses online

With distance learning, students gain access to courses online and learn at their own pace without having to worry about time or location. These are major contributors to the growing popularity of distance learning. The Distance Education Enrollment Report 2017 takes a closer look at just how popular distance learning has become. Some key takeaways from this report include:

  • In the US alone, there are now more than 6 million higher education students enrolled in at least one distance learning course.
  • 29.7% of students are enrolled in at least one distance learning course.
  • Year over year, there has been a 3.9% increase in distance education students.
  • From 2012 to 2015, the number of students studying on campuses dropped by nearly 1 million.
  • More than two thirds (67.8%) of all distance students are enrolled in public institutions.

These numbers are striking and tell us that, not only should we expect the number of distance learners to continue growing, but also that public institutions are embracing the trend by incorporating elearning practices into their curriculums. As it becomes increasingly popular among students, it’s crucial that schools and universities understand why students are choosing distance learning and what they can do to provide the best learning opportunities for their students.

Why are students choosing distance learning?

One of the key reasons distance learning has become so popular among students is easy accessibility. Through online learning platforms, students gain the ability to learn from any location, at any time, removing many of the roadblocks of a more traditional education. While there are many implicit benefits to education becoming more convenient and accessible, possibly the most important factor is how this expands the reach of higher education.

flexibility of distance learning

The flexibility of distance learning allows people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend a class in-person the ability to pursue their education. For individuals who work full-time jobs, who are parents, who care for loved ones, or have any number of responsibilities that prevent them from enrolling in traditional classroom settings, distance learning gives them the opportunity to work education into their busy schedules.

With the ability to pause when something doesn’t make sense or go back when you get distracted, all individuals can create a learning experience that fits their lives and circumstances.

Giving students the opportunity to learn

In my position, I get to work closely with higher education instructors from across the country and see first-hand how elearning has become an integral part of their curriculum. The instructors I work with use SolidProfessor to empower their students with the ability to work on their assignments from anywhere with an internet connection. Giving students the ability to learn on their own time and from any location allows them to learn the valuable skills and information they need to be successful in the fields of engineering and design.

Every day, we see students that are more motivated and taking full advantage of these opportunities to further their education. As distance learning continues to gain popularity and students continue embracing this newly accessible form of education, schools need to supply their students with effective online learning tools.

Distance learning and elearning are no longer education tools of the future – they are quickly becoming modern education necessities. By providing students with quality online learning resources that focus on in-depth, engaging, up-to-date content, schools and universities will ensure they stay aligned with the demand of students in the digital world.

This is only the beginning for distance learning. As the world is becoming more and more educated, both students and universities alike will need to keep up with the speed of innovation. If you’re a university and don’t already have a distance learning program in place, now is the time to take action. Distance learning initiatives are easily integrated with existing curriculums and will help you stay competitive in the education sector by attracting a wider range of students.

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Alli Bartelloni
About the Author

SolidProfessor Success Manager, dolphin enthusiast, and pizza connoisseur.