Education Online Education
Kathy-ann Daniel-Gittens
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0187


Online education is considered the latest generation in the practice of distance education. As described by professionals in the field, distance education is a form of teaching and learning characterized by the physical separation of student from teacher and from other students. In distance education, teaching and learning is always mediated by technology. The goal of technology has always been to decrease the distance between learners and teachers and to make education accessible. In online education, distance education teaching and learning is mediated by Internet technology. In its earliest days, distance education was accomplished using the postal system. This paper-based distance education model gave rise to the term “correspondence school.” This was used to describe vocational and technical schools using distance education as their primary means of instruction. Higher education institutions using this mode of instruction were designated “open universities.” As technology changed over the years, so did the means of instruction in distance education. Newer technologies were employed to bridge the physical distance. Increased use of television, radio, audio and video cassettes and video conferencing for instruction were some of the major technological shifts that changed the way education at a distance was mediated. Instead of completely paper-based instructional materials and communication modes, students could physically see and hear their teachers. In video conferencing, there was also the opportunity for synchronous communication with instructors. More recently, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Internet technology has also radically shifted the way distance education is carried out. Like previous electronic technologies, Internet technology affords opportunities to produce instructional materials in a variety of multimedia formats. Unlike previous electronic technologies, Internet technology allows this development to occur at significantly reduced costs, making the production of multimedia instructional materials more prevalent in distance education. It also promotes the sharing of these materials at much faster speeds. In addition, Internet technology has had a wide-ranging impact on the communication patterns that defined distance education. One of the well-documented limitations of distance education was the difficulty in supporting synchronous communication between teachers and students and among students themselves. Internet technology has removed this limitation by affording easy and affordable access to synchronous communication tools. Internet technology has not only changed the content delivery and communication models in distance education, it has also changed the way instruction is viewed and designed. Although online education is recognized as the latest generation of distance education, it remain true that distance education represents the larger field of theoretical study, With a deep foundation of research literature, distance education encompasses not only online education, but also every other form of mediated instruction.

Reference Works

These texts provide a broad yet detailed overview of the major theories and issues in the field of online education. They include texts by influential writers and researchers. In addition, books by experienced practitioners are included to create a balance between the academic and practitioner perspective of online education. Anderson and Elloumi 2008 is a classic edited text that delves into online education issues in depth. It begins with a review of the theoretical foundations of online learning and continues into a consideration of pragmatic issues. Moore and Kearsley 2011 begins the third edition of this well-received text by documenting the historical development of online education. They continue with a meticulous discussion of major areas of practical, technological, and research interest. Garrison 2017 is the third edition of this text. In it, Garrison refines the concept of “presence” and its importance for online education. Adelsberger, et al. 2008 explores the leading edge of technology for online learning. Distinctive about this text is that although its focus is obviously technological, this concern is grounded in learning theory foundations. Many seasoned distance education researchers have contributed to this text. Berge and Muilenburg 2013 is also on the leading edge of technology for online learning. This award- winning book sets out a theoretical framework for understanding mobile learning as a subset of the larger field of online learning and offers a plethora of case study applications in mobile learning showing the breadth of its reach. Danvers 2016 developed a three-volume encyclopedia collection of 350 entries on online education. This encyclopedia set provides a solid overview of topics, issues, and actors in online education; valuably, it incorporates a strong international perspective. Gooley and Lockwood 2012 brings practitioners’ perspectives to the literature on online education. Simpson 2012 addresses the theory and practice of online student support and does the same in his book. Moller and Huett 2012 looks to the future of online education and considers new principles and new design practices.

  • Adelsberger, Heimo H., Kinshuk, and Jan Martin Pawlowski, eds. 2008. Handbook on information technologies for education and training. New York: Springer Science & Business Media.

    This edited handbook on technologies used in online education organizes itself around the functions and processes they take part in. Academic discipline is also used as an organizing category for technologies. Woven throughout the book are design principles governing technology application and use.

  • Anderson, Terry, and Fathi Elloumi. 2008. The theory and practice of online learning. Athabasca: Athabasca Univ. Press.

    This classic text edited by two stalwarts in the online education field addresses technological, pedagogical, and management issues in online education. Athabasca University has made the book freely available online.

  • Berge, Zane L., and Lin Muilenburg. 2013. Handbook of mobile learning. London: Routledge.

    This award-winning book addressed the need for a theoretical framework to situate mobile learning within the larger field of online education. In addition to laying out a theoretical foundation for the study of mobile learning and mobile pedagogy as subfield of online education, the book presents a plethora of case studies showing applications of mobile learning in international settings.

  • Danvers, Steven. 2016. The SAGE encyclopedia of online education. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781483318332

    This three-volume encyclopedia set covers the field of online education in 350 entries. The entries are international in scope and addresses many of topical and management areas and technology used in online education. Entries are more expository than analytical.

  • Garrison, D. Randy. 2017. E-Learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice. London: Routledge.

    This third edition of the book updates Garrison’s work on “presence” in a community of inquiry framework. As in previous editions, he lays out the conceptual framework for community of inquiry and follows with applications in a variety of instructional and technological scenarios.

  • Gooley, Anne, and Fred Lockwood, eds. 2012. Innovation in open and distance learning: Successful development of online and web-based learning. London: Routledge.

    Edited by two seasoned professionals in the field of distance education. Brings together a group of experienced practitioners and produces a volume that examines a range of salient issues. Although technology discussions appear a bit dated, the design- and case-based information is valuable.

  • Moller, Leslie, and Jason B. Huett. 2012. The next generation of distance education. New York: Springer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4614-1785-9

    Embraces the forward edge of online education. Contributors include well-known researchers and writers in the field. Together they deliver an analytic text focusing on design and development issues.

  • Moore, Michael G., and Greg Kearsley. 2011. Distance education: A systems view of online learning. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

    Moore and Kearsley are two well-known researchers and theoreticians in online education, Moore having developed much of the theoretical foundation that drives our understanding of distance education in the 21st century. This book offers a meticulous discussion of major areas of instructional, technological, institutional, and research interest in online education. They use a systems framework to help organize the discussion.

  • Simpson, Ormond. 2012. Supporting students for success in online and distance education. London: Routledge.

    This is the third edition of this influential book on learner support in online education. Based on his many years of working at the British Open University, Ormond has produced a thorough and detailed overview of learner support. He opens by establishing a theoretical basis for the study of learner support and expands by describing types of learner support and designs for learner support at the various levels.

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