What is Distributed Learning?

Distributed learning is not about good technology, it’s about good communication.

Distributed Learning, or distance learning, is a broad category that includes all modes of delivery of instruction to remote students. The following are examples of the modes of delivery used at Coast Mountain College:

Online learning 

A mode of delivery that uses the internet. Almost all instructors already incorporate elements of online learning through emailing students and posting content for use outside of class using a learning management system (LMS) like Brightspace.

Brightspace login


A tool to connect students and instructors through web-based video platforms that include:

  • Teaching remote and face-to-face students simultaneously
  • Teaching individual and face-to-face students simultaneously 
  • Everyone on their own computer but attending a live session through videoconferencing platform (like BlueJeans)

Synchronous learning 

Components of the course are taught “live” online and students are required to attend a session virtually with their peers and instructor. 

There are a variety of tools that instructors and students can use to participate in these sessions such as: text chats, web-conferencing platforms (with or without video) and cloud-based collaborative sessions.

Asynchronous learning

Assigned tasks that students complete in their own time. These tasks often operate on a schedule with deadlines.

Asynchronous courses are generally hosted on a learning management system, and direct students to read content in textbooks, and print and screen modules; watch videos and pre-recorded lectures; participate in discussion boards; complete an offline, place-based task; and post assignments. Instructors may still host office hours and meet students (on or offline).


A self-paced course may or may not have an instructor assigned to it. If an instructor is assigned to the self-paced course, they are available to answer questions, clarify complex concepts, and provide tutorials as needed. They may also counsel and support student goal setting. A self-paced course normally has a maximum time allowed, but students can finish earlier than this.

Face-to-face learning 

When the instructor and students are physically in the same place for the course, or components of the course. 

Blended learning 

Some contact hours are kept as face-to-face which can be spread out through the course, front-loaded, or wrapped around.

Advantages of Distributed Learning

  • Long lectures can be presented into smaller sessions and recorded.
  • Provides flexibility to learn how and where students want.
  • Drives pedagogical innovation, creativity, and more learning-centered approaches.
  • Has the potential to expand the reach of the curriculum beyond the classroom and textbook and into the real world. 
  • Students have time to think about, and pour meaning into, content and ideas.
  • Reaches people who otherwise couldn’t attend in person.
  • Adds voices from diverse contexts.
  • Instruction can happen from anywhere.