Online vs. Remote Learning: What is the difference?

They sound the same to us, right? To be remote, one must be online, right? Not necessarily so; these are actually very different modes of learning.

When the shutdown was no longer imminent but actual, Educators had to rush to move their content online. Many Educators had not even imagined their class being turned upside down in such a short period of time. Given the rush, not much thought was put into what they were about to embark on--was it an online journey? Remote? Online remote??

What I notice taking placed is that the terms "online" and "remote learning" are being used interchangeably, but did you know that they are not the same? Simplifying things just a bit, remote learning can be synonymous with synchronous learning. It is videoconferenced sessions where the Instructor is teaching in a live situation, remotely-from home or wherever-to their students. It's not necessarily the best of situations and is certainly not meant to be THE only way to manage our Education situation, as it does not account for equitable access to computers much less WiFi, in addition to a number of other reasons. Also, many students who have returned home from school, may be in situations where their 'home' is on a different coast, with varying bandwidth and accessibility to the technology needed to be ON at a certain time on certain days. Online learning is more in line with an asynchronous approach, where the content is placed online for students to complete on their own time, most often with associated due dates. It is self-paced, usually meeting the convenience of instructors and students, and typically has many layers of instructional design incorporated. It can also be comprised of content delivered in a variety of preferably user-friendly approaches such as video, audio, virtual simulation or written format, where the learner has to read and/or watch and/or listen to the information and in many cases, respond to discussion board forums and the like. In well thought out online courses, I've also experienced the assignment of online quizzes, papers and group projects being required. It takes several months to create a well-organized and structured online course, as there are many areas for quality assurance also involved to make sure any emdedded links are working and that the overall flow of the course are meeting the planned learning objectives. The emergence of this situation will not produce such a product, hence the abundant use of remote learning. What seems to be happening is that Educators are taking their lectures and many are using the same lecture format, just in remote form. This is not ideal and is being used as a band-aid hopefully just for the moment, especially since the long lecture slides and notes are not always optimized for mobile learning, which is taking place at exponential rates.

The question of sustainability of remote learning and the pros and cons of both asynchronous and synchronous learning in the weeks and months ahead in Education, will be reviewed in a follow up blog, but I felt it necessary to make the distinction between online and remote learning. As Educators embark on this "new normal" in teaching and learning, we first need to make sure we have an understanding of what we are doing and how to do it right. Now that many academic school calendars are coming to an end, it will be imperative that Educators take the time and take it upon themselves to really be proactive, seek consult, if need be, on how to make the student learning experience meaningful for so many uncertain students. These same students and families are looking at our schools to make sure its even worth the investment in the hopes that some type of on campus normalcy will return--the least we can do as Educators is take steps in showing them that we are putting their needs first and are working with learner-centric approaches to our course design and delivery.


Craig, R. (2 April 2020). What Students are Doing is Remote Learning, not Online Learning. There's a Difference. [Newsletter]. Retrieved from

Lederman, D. (18 March 2020). Will Shift to Remote Teaching be Boon or Bane for Online Learning? Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from