Distance, Virtual and Online Education: What’s the Difference?

9 August 2020 14 Comments Distance, virtual and online education: What is the difference The contingency has caused teachers to look for different ways to continue teaching classes to students. Faced with this context, distance education, virtual education, and online education are some of the modalities that can be implemented. But what are the differences between each one? In this article, we will explain it.

These concepts are usually used as synonyms, although as we will see below, each one refers to modalities with particular characteristics.

In this mode, students have control over the time, space, and rhythm of learning, an internet connection is not necessary. The materials to be used can be physical, for example, booklets and books, or multimedia using USB sticks or CDs. This material can be delivered in person, by correspondence or email if there is a possibility. The accompaniment and feedback between the teacher and the student are carried out by phone through calls or text messages.

In some educational systems, this modality relies on radio and television to reach contexts in which a telephone connection is not possible.

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In the virtual mode, an internet connection is necessary, since contact with the teacher is through a multimedia platform where students can review and download various materials such as documents, slide presentations, or videos. One of the main characteristics of virtual education is that it is not necessary for teachers and students to coincide in the schedule, in other words, it is asynchronous.

Normally the platforms used in this modality have a forum so that students can express doubts or concerns, in the same way, the teacher when assigning the activities establishes a deadline for delivery. When reviewing and evaluating them, it includes feedback to students, who can later consult it to verify their progress and areas of opportunity.

It has all the advantages of the virtual modality but with an extra characteristic: it is synchronous, that is, the teacher and the students coincide in the timetable. For this, platforms that allow the use of video calls are used, so the classes are live and various teaching techniques such as debates or forums can be implemented, as well as the resolution of doubts and feedback is in real-time.

Another positive aspect is that the platforms used to allow the video classes to be recorded and the study materials archived so that, in the event that a student has not been able to take the class, they can consult it later.

Differences in distance classes, virtual classes, and online classes
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As we can see, there are some characteristics that these modalities share, but there are also clear differences between them. At the same time, it is clear that each one has advantages and disadvantages, so it is up to the collective of each school to consider which of them best suits the characteristics and needs of its context.

I hope the information is useful to you!


Meléndez, C. F. (2013). Virtual platforms as a resource for university teaching: analysis, evaluation, and integration proposal of Moodle with web 2.0 tools (Doctoral dissertation, Complutense University of Madrid).

Suárez, J. M., and Anaya, D. (2012). Distance and face-to-face education: differences in the cognitive and motivational components of university students. RIED. Ibero-American Journal of Distance Education, 7 (1-2), 65-75.

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