Making Sense of the Different Types of Remote LEarning

Making Sense of the Different Types of Remote Learning

With the global COVID-19 pandemic requiring educational institutions to remain closed, many schools are taking to remote learning, and most parents have to find a way to “homeschool” their kids. For those completely new to the concept, it may be difficult to understand what remote learning really entails.

What kind of at-home learning options do students have? Do different phrases mean the same thing? What’s the difference between distance learning and digital education? Isn’t online learning just the same as e-learning? Most importantly, which is the best option for your kid?

You may have a lot of questions, so check out the different types of remote learning to understand the landscape better. For all the resources and information about homeschooling on The Wyzant Blog, check out our Homeschool Resource Hub.

What is remote learning?

Remote learning is an umbrella term for all the learning that takes place remotely outside of a traditional classroom setting. It involves a form of learning where the instructor or the source of information and the learner are separated by time and/or distance. There’s minimal to no physical presence involved, as lessons are conducted online, and the information typically gets transmitted through online tools and platforms.

In remote learning, students will mostly access educational resources online, receive their lessons online, take their tests online, and submit their assignments online. At the same time, they may also receive traditional educational resources like textbooks depending on the institution. Some remote learning situations, such as those happening via schools during closures, may also require students to submit their assignments and coursework physically, even though their lessons and classes all take place online.

So, simply put: the forms of learning included below are all types of remote learning.

Online learning

Online learning, or digital learning, involves the use of online tools for learning, with the key element being the use of the internet to receive and exchange information. It typically involves an interaction between teachers and students through online classes and platforms. So, schools resorting to virtual classes to keep education moving forward are primary form of online learning.

There can be different forms of online learning, which is where all the confusion tends to originate. It’s crucial to note that online learning is a method of receiving education remotely, which makes it a form of remote learning. Yet, it can also have several sub-types.

For instance, entire online courses for college-level education from a formal educational institution are available remotely. Professionals signing up for online courses to learn a particular skill to help with their work or employment prospect also partake in a form of online learning.

School students can also get online tutoring in specific subjects to continue progress while education in the classroom is out of the question. With a tutor, students work with an online expert independently from the formal classes they have at school. Tutors provide structure to the online learning process, and serve as skilled educators who personalize the stuff students learn in school, often leading to deeper mastery of concepts. A tutor isn’t just for emergencies like last-minute test prep, and can be key to maintaining success in education while everyone is stuck at home.

Distance learning

While often considered synonymous with online learning, distance learning varies slightly. Distance learning is typically part of a formal education institution, whereas online learning can involve non-formal educational institutions as well. Non-formal educational institutions may include (but aren’t limited to) online tutoring platforms and professional skill-development courses.

Distance learning is similar to online and remote learning, as you still rely on online tools such as discussion boards, video calls, and learning management systems of the institution that provides the course or class. So, distance learning is a form of online learning, but the two are not synonymous.

Schools providing online education through virtual classes and colleges offering online courses are also an example of distance learning.


E-learning, like the others, is often used interchangeably with online learning, but there’s a keydifference between the two.

E-learning refers to the interaction that occurs between a teacher and a student. Under this method, students learn their lessons through an online medium, even if the teacher is in the same building as them, which helps to simulate work-based learning situations. For example, students may be present in a physical classroom, but the teacher may use an online training module to teach a particular module. E-learning has become more widely used by many schools in the US since closures began, though lots of them still struggle with implementation.

The main difference between e-learning and online learning is that online learning solely focuses on learning through online methods, while e-learning can be used in both a physical classroom and an online setting. In most e-learning situations, a classroom teacher will be “present” and involved.

Blended learning

As the name suggests, blended learning is a combination of traditional learning in a physical classroom and digital learning using online tools and platforms. Students normally have a fixed schedule for attending part of their classes on campus, while completing the remaining parts through virtual learning methods – they’ll do their assignments and coursework online, and attend some classes virtually.

More often than not, students involved in blended learning also have a fixed schedule to receive live online lessons from a remote teacher using a virtual platform. Some educational institutions may also provide an option for students to customize their virtual learning timetable, much like their normal schedule of classes. This can be extremely beneficial for students who wish to pursue a college course while juggling other things like work and professional training courses.


Homeschooling is the process of educating children at home rather than sending them to a traditional school. In most homeschooling situations, parents are the ones doing the teaching. However, some parents may instead hire private tutors to provide professional at-home education, to help with certain concepts or subjects, or just to allow them more time in their own schedule. Private online homeschool tutors conduct lessons through through digital platforms.

The biggest difference between homeschooling and online learning is that homeschooling doesn’t focus solely on using online educational resources. Typically, parents and homeschool tutors use traditional textbooks and offline learning methods, as well as conduct tests through traditional methods. However, now that COVID-19 requires social distancing, in-person teaching has taken a back seat to online.

Some parents may also leave an online private tutor in charge of their kids’ homeschooling, providing structure and routine much like a classroom.

Now, with most schools remaining closed due to coronavirus, more and more parents have to resort to homeschooling even though they’ve had no training in how to teach, modalities, or other important skills needed to effectively homeschool their kids. It can be challenging to navigate the landscape, especially if you’re new to it. Where do you start and how do you even make sure that your kids are benefiting from their lessons?

To top it all off, citywide lockdowns may prevent private tutors from paying an in-home visit to tutor your child. So the best option is to work with an online homeschool tutor to provide your kid with personalized one-on-one learning in spite of school closures. That way, you can still make sure that they keep up with their classes while ensuring their safety.

Considering the low cost of online tutoring, it’s a particularly attractive option for parents struggling to homeschool their kids amid the crisis brought on by coronavirus. However, it also works even for students whose school is still providing digital education through online classes. It will help them keep up with their lessons and get extra work done on the subjects they struggle with.

While online tutoring is most popular among middle school and high school students, you can find tutors to provide private lessons at every level. In fact, you can even find tutors for elementary school students.

Virtual exchange

Virtual exchange is a method of remote learning combined with student exchange programs. It involves the use of technology for connecting students and educational institutions in different parts of the world. Most virtual exchange programs are international and typically focus on college-level education. They allow participants in different countries to enhance their knowledge and skills as well as gain global competencies.

Since the learning takes place through online platforms, virtual exchange programs are a method of online learning and distance learning. It is also a form of remote learning, as there’s a physical and time distance between the student and their instructor or facilitator.

What’s best for your kid right now?

The obvious question is: which of these options is best for your kid at the moment? This is a pressing concern.

Parents who are already homeschooling their kids will have no trouble adapting to the changes because they’re already used to teaching their kids at home. That’s not to say that they won’t need help with an online homeschooling tutor. For parents who were sending their kids to a traditional school, however, the answer will likely be more subjective. The right choice for your kid’s education largely depends on how their school is handling the issue, and how well your child is adapting to the at-home learning situation…as well as your current work situation.

Is the school still continuing with learning through online classes? If so, you may not need to worry too much about homeschooling, though you should still consider an online private tutor if your kid is having trouble adapting to their new learning environment.

If the school isn’t holding online classes, you’ll probably have to consider a form of online learning to keep your kid actively engaged. This is a most daunting scenario, especially if you have to juggle it with working from home. Here’s some help for homeschooling, just in case.

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