A Teacher's Guide to Distance Learning


Teaching and learning are no longer confined to the classroom or the school day. There are many technologies that can offer a great deal of flexibility in when, where, and how education is distributed. The Teacher's Guide to Distance Learning is intended for K-12 educators who are interested in implementing distance learning technologies. It provides an overview of the advantages and characteristics of the various technologies now being used to reach remote learners.

A Scenario

Michele was very upset when she first learned that she would not be able to attend school for several months due to her illness. She dreaded the isolation of being at home, and she wanted desperately to keep up with her peers so that she could graduate from high school on schedule.

Luckily, Michele's teachers and parents worked out a plan that incorporated distance learning. With an Internet connection and a computer with audio and video capabilities at home, she was able to keep pace with her peers. Michele completed Algebra and History with a Virtual High School on the Internet and practiced her Spanish dialog through videoconferences.

Although the distance learning techniques enabled Michele to keep up with her class, the implementation was challenging for all involved. The principal and counselor had to devote the time and energy necessary to locate courses in the Virtual High School that would meet the district's requirements. Her teachers were required to adapt some of their materials for individualized learning, and her parents had to spend extra time helping Michele schedule her studies and her medical appointments. They all agreed, however, that the results were well worth the efforts -- Michele was back at school now and would graduate on schedule with her classmates!

Definition of Distance Learning

There are many synonyms used for Distance Learning, such as Distance Education, Distributed Learning, or Remote Education. For the purposes of this guide, Distance Learning will be defined by the following criteria:
  1. The teacher and students are separated by distance (this distance could mean different classrooms in the same school or different locations thousands of miles apart).
  2. The instruction is delivered via print, voice, video, or computer technologies
  3. The communication is interactive in that the student receives support and feedback from the teacher. The feedback may be immediate or delayed.
Distance Learning can be roughly divided into synchronous or asynchronous delivery types. Synchronous means that the teacher and the student interact with each other in "real time." For example, with two-way videoconferences, students interact with "live" video of an instructor. Less complex technologies, such as telephone conversations, are also synchronous.

Asynchronous delivery does not take place simultaneously. In this case, the teacher may deliver the instruction via video, computer, or other means, and the students respond at a later time. For example, instruction may be delivered via the Web or videotapes, and the feedback could be sent via e-mail messages. Common synchronous and asynchronous technologies are outlined in the following table.

Synchronous Asynchronous
Video Videoconferencing Videotape, DVD,
Broadcast video
Audio Audioconferencing Audio files,
Radio, Podcasts
Data Internet chat,
Internet videoconferencing


Figure 1. Common synchronous and asynchronous technologies.


Table of Contents
  1. Introduction
  2. Applications in K-12 Education
  3. Benefits of Distance Learning
  4. Connectivity Issues and Alternatives
  5. Overview of Distance Learning Technologies
  6. Print Technologies
  1. Audio/Voice Technologies
  2. Computer (Data) Technologies
  3. Video Technologies
  4. Implementing Distance Learning
  5. References
  6. Glossary

Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida ©1999, 2009.