Definition of Distance Education

Apart from the accepted definition of distance education by the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) which defines it as “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors”, there are certainly many other definitions which try to establish a common vocabulary to address a precise definitions of distance education and distance learning.

However, over the years and in the light of advances in technology, many of these definitions lack a precise vocabulary to explain this field. In this regard, a precise definition of this domain is not feasible because the technology is developing and changing constantly. In my opinion, however, one question has received less attention. That is, how the technology thinks about their audiences, and how this might affect the sociocultural changes of these audiences. In definition of AECT, the concept was broken down into four subcategories which of which is “institutional based”.

It is important to have more precise understanding of the term institution and see, for example, how technologies are transforming the institutions and consequently affect their audiences. In other words, the institutions define their audiences and over time concentrate deeper to understand how these changes may monetize their audiences.

Another important aspect of defining the distance education is to know how, when, and where students/ audiences use the media. Thus the definition may focus on two key phenomena what Napoli (2003a) calls audience fragmentation and audience autonomy. The former key affects the traditional view of students/ audiences and increasingly supports the “long tail” scenario where attention is clustered around a few subjects followed by a long tail. The latter explains how interactivity, mobility, on demand functionality, and user generated content increase the students’ control as well.

This is also what Edwards (1995) defined as open learning. In his view, open learning places greater emphasis on the current specific needs and shifts the idea of mass consumption to a focus on individual needs.


Napoli, P. M. (2011). Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audiences. Columbia University Press. Retrieved from

Simonson, M. R., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2000). Teaching and learning at a distance. Merrill Upper Saddle River, NJ. Retrieved from