Welcome to this important report on the advancing practice of distance learning. What was once looked upon as a disruptive technology has evolved into an accepted way of learning through most mainstream providers. More than 6.7 million college students took an online course in a single semester and 32 percent took at least one course while pursuing their degree.

The United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) is pleased to bring public awareness of opportunities to participate in modern learning methods through this publication. USDLA strives to make a difference in the effectiveness of learning by bringing together professionals from education and training, including PK-12, higher education, corporate, government, military and telehealth. Online learning did not just happen without deep thought toward the design of effective learning experiences by these professionals who care.

"Distance learning reaches out to underserved populations of lower socioeconomic status, more remotely positioned learners, including deployed military, and many who are homebound with disabilities."

That is not to say that new technologies do not offer more benefits to the learner than the experience itself. The desktop computer gave students the convenience to attend classes from a distance in the home or the workplace. Laptops, tablets, cell phones and Wi-Fi have become an integral part of today’s culture and have transformed students into mobile learners who attend class, study, communicate and research at anytime in any place. No wonder online learners increased by 570,000 between the last two years of the study mentioned above.

Reaching the masses

Who are these distant learners of today? Children are introduced to technology before entering the classroom and expect it whether spending seat time with other kids, or taking online courses where daily communications take place over live webinars, streamed podcasts, blogs, etc.  Millions of serious students and inquisitive individuals enroll in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from top-name universities and professors for free.

The non-traditional student population has exploded through distance learning. Today’s workplace demands continuous learning at any stage of a career. Opportunities abound for individual advancement through online corporate training, bachelors and graduate degrees and certificates of specialization. Distance learning reaches out to underserved populations of lower socioeconomic status, more remotely positioned learners, including deployed military and many who are homebound with disabilities.

Moving forward, we are more curious to embark upon lifelong learning with a little help from technology. More valuable opportunities for our progress paths are made possible through distance learning today.