Traditional education methods no longer suit us. They don’t suit our needs, and they don’t suit our lives. We have become busier professionally and socially, and learning has had to adapt to attract our attention. Luckily, advancements in technology have enabled us to learn on the go and when it’s convenient for us, revolutionizing distance learning.

Simply put, distance learning is the process of learning without being physically present. Let’s take a look at how it has evolved and where its impressive future lies.

The Past

One of the earliest recorded examples of distance learning is reportedly an advertisement placed in the Boston Gazette in 1728 by a teacher named Caleb Philipps, who was looking for students who wanted to learn shorthand via weekly mailed lessons. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and in the midst of flower power and flares, 1969 saw the institution of the Open University in the U.K., which allowed learners to take courses from home. Since then, the Open University has used an array of methods for teaching, from written materials to audio formats, television programs, CDs and, finally, the internet. Instant, environmentally friendly and an endless well of information, the internet changed distance learning forever.

The Present

Solutions such as the learning management system (LMS) have changed the way companies train. Using techniques such as gamification, social learning and personalization, organizations can ensure that learners are really absorbing content, no matter their location.

The features of an LMS are built to not only support distance learning but to enhance it. Modern LMSs use functions like gamification and social learning to drive learner engagement and knowledge retention. Let’s take a closer look at these two powerful techniques.


Gamification is the process of applying game mechanics to non game-related environments. The objective is to engage the learner while supporting business objectives. It’s also a great way to encourage healthy competition among colleagues. Elements such as leaderboards, badges, challenges and experience points are all essential features of the gamified experience.

Since learners can access LMSs via laptops and mobile devices, you can set up a gamified platform for distance learners wherever they are based. You can even convert virtual experience points into real-life rewards, like vouchers. Some companies offer incentives such as an extra day for employees at the top of the leaderboard. With an LMS, your sales team in New York can be battling your sales team in London to see who can reach the top of the leaderboards – a fantastic example of distance learning in practice.

Social Learning

Social learning is imperative when it comes to upskilling employees. Indeed, if you put faith in the 70-20-10 model, 20 percent of learning should come from a social setting.

An LMS is the perfect vehicle for distance learners to use social learning. You can implement discussion forums for them to share skills and give each other expert advice. You can also use an LMS like a social media wall, where learners share videos, blogs, podcasts, infographics and other content to teach each other about specific subjects. As long they have a device and access to the internet, they can use social learning anywhere.

The Future

Fifty percent of college presidents predict that in 10 years, most of their students will take online courses. Additionally, 25 percent of learners are expected to be online-only by 2020. Remote learning is on the rise within the workplace, too.

Virtual reality is revolutionizing distance learning. It allows learners to become fully immersed in the subject they are learning about, from their own homes. Instead of reading about ancient Rome, for example, the technology is now available to let you walk around ancient Rome. And though messaging apps can help employees in different locations communicate, VR takes remote communication to the next level. Imagine training global employees in a virtual classroom! Japanese researcher Jun Rekimoto even invented a “human Uber,” in which a screen is attached to a person’s head, allowing a remote user to experience what he or she is experiencing – such as a training program.

Distance learning has come a long way and shows no signs of slowing down in its evolution. Learning management systems have made it easier to learn from anywhere in the world. With online learning leading the charge, the scene is set for an exciting future.