'Distance education' and 'e-learning': Not the same thing

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This article examines the distinct differences between 'distance education' and 'e-learning' in higher education settings. Since the emergence of the new information and communication technologies (ICT), many have related to them as the new generation of distance education, and some have referred to their implementation in academia as challenging the very existence of campus-based universities. Many policy makers, scholars and practitioners in higher education use these two terms interchangeably as synonyms. But the fact is that distance education in most higher education systems is not delivered through the new electronic media, and vice versa - e-learning in most universities and colleges all over the world is not used for distance education purposes. 'Distance education' and 'e-learning' do overlap in some cases, but are by no means identical. The lack of distinction between 'e-learning' and 'distance education' accounts for much of the misunderstanding of the ICT roles in higher education, and for the wide gap between the rhetoric in the literature describing the future sweeping effects of the ICT on educational environments and their actual implementation. The article examines the erroneous assumptions on which many exaggerated predictions as to the future impact of the ICT were based upon, and it concludes with highlighting the future trends of 'distance education' and 'e-learning' in academia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-493
Number of pages27
JournalHigher Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2005


  • Distance education
  • Distance teaching universities
  • Higher education
  • Information and communication technologies
  • e-learning


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