• 05 Jun 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 4Min

Online learning versus remote learning during COVID-19

Online learning versus remote learning during COVID-19


This past week, South African Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga announced that learners would begin returning to school on 1 June, starting with grades 7 and 12. This, after more than two months which saw academic institutions pivoting their operations to remote or distance learning in response to COVID-19.

While many have equated remote learning with online learning, there is a difference – and it’s important to understand the limitations of each in order to reap the full benefits of learning while at home, no matter your age.

What is the difference between remote learning and online learning?

Remote Learning

According to Susan Grajek of Educause, a non-profit association based in the United States, remote learning is a “quick, ad hoc, low fidelity mitigation strategy” that is a response to the lockdowns and social distancing currently seen across the world. Basically, this type of learning allows teachers and learners to stay connected and engaged with their curriculum while working from home.

One of the most common drawbacks, which has proliferated during the COVID-19 lockdown, is that remote learning is typically linked to emergency situations and teachers and learners are often not accustomed to the distance they will experience.

Preparedness, technology tools and support infrastructure are key aspects of remote learning, says Tech & Learning, and something many of South Africa’s learning institutions were unprepared for. Additionally, a lack of access to internet services due to the inequalities in our society has also made it extremely difficult for learners and lecturers to pursue distance learning in this way.

Some solutions that have proved useful are mailed assignment packs, the use of social media, educational television and radio programmes, and zero-rated educational content where data charges do not apply when accessing a specific website.

Online Learning

Online learning is often a well-designed system that prioritises engagement, interactivity and immediate measurables. Freedom Learning Group (FLG) CEO Nathan Ecelbarger describes online learning environments as sites that are easy to navigate, clear and concise, that build intentional learning experiences. They also encourage research and critical thinking instead of memorisation.

The most prolific use of online learning can be found in higher education institutes targeted at postgraduate students or professionals. In these settings, classes are formal and led by a professor or an expert in the field of study – and they are accessible from anywhere as long as you have a working internet connection.

The beauty of online learning also lies in its ability to go at your own pace (within reason as you’ll still have deadlines for assignments) as well as the access you have to additional resources and video conferencing or direct messaging with your lecturers.

How online and remote learning can work for you and your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

USB-ED is well-versed in online learning but since the nationwide lockdown, we’ve also pivoted to providing remote learning for all our usual face-to-face programmes. Both these learning options provide employers and employees with an opportunity to upskill themselves from the comfort of their homes, ensuring you are a flexible resource for your business, which, like many companies across the world, is most likely looking at streamlining its workforce in an effort to keep its doors open after the pandemic.

That said, USB-ED’s remote learning programmes incorporate live, synchronous class schedules that enable classroom interactions via technology and immediate engagement. You’ll not only enjoy distance learning but will benefit from a highly collaborative online education platform, too.


Now is also the best time to upskill yourself as it will not only take your mind off the current situation but prepare you for a world post-COVID – one where personal resilience and adaptability will be valued.

Still unsure whether online and remote learning are for you? Click here to watch our DigiBytes video for the low-down on all things digital learning.

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