What are the key differences between Online Learning, Virtual learning, E-Learning, Distance Learning and Blended Learning?

The vast landscape of online learning

Online learning has become a vast landscape that is increasingly expanding as we make the transition away from the traditional classroom.  Yet, as we move forward into the world of the ‘new normal’ and the pace of adoption of new technologies that are increasingly shifting and transforming both the way we live and the way we work gain even greater traction; some of the terms to describe education and training delivery methods are new to us and often confusing.  In this article we highlight the main differences between the various online learning methods and their defining characteristics. 

Online Learning

  • Online learning is an encompassing term used to describe any form of learning that takes place online and includes:
    • Virtual face-to-face interactions such as online lectures, virtual meetings and webinars.
  • Online learning uses various tools for learning, including:
    • Conferencing software
    • Virtual space
    • Online curriculum
  • Online learning is also seen as a fusion between virtual learning and blended learning.

Virtual Learning

  • Virtual learning takes place where instruction is delivered via the Internet, using software or a combination of both.
  • With virtual learning instruction takes place inside or outside of the physical premises of a training institution or educational body.
  • The learning experience is enhanced using a computer and an online program or software.
  • An individualised self-pacing format or live web conferencing platform is used between learners and instructors.


  • Broadly speaking, E-Learning makes use of digital tools that facilitate the learning process.
  • E-Learning can take place online or in a classroom environment.
  • Students take a course from an instructor but only interact with the instructor via online channels.
  • Learners are given unlimited access to content.
  • Course completion is handled strictly online.

Distance Learning

  • With distance learning, the structure is the same as per online learning.
  • Where distance learning is concerned, its main purpose is to engage students from any location.
  • Distance learning is the ideal method of providing instruction for students at different times and in different locations to those of the instructor as well as other students.

Blended Learning

  • The concise definition of blended learning is the fusion between classroom and virtual learning.
  • The art of blended learning is how it integrates virtual learning in such a way so as to individualise and enhance the learning process.

Matching the learning style to the needs of the individual

When deciding on which learning style is appropriate under any given set or circumstances, various considerations must first be taken into account that typically involve: 

  • The overall learning objectives
  • Intended learning outcomes
  • The individual needs of the student
  • Digital literacy competencies
  • Level of access to technology

Through online learning, the needs of the individual are broadly catered for by leveraging all available technologies to deliver a seamless online classroom experience.

Download our 2021 Training Catalogue here to discover how online learning can work for you.

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