Distance learning: A research briefing by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)

Abbi Hobbs and Faye Bolan (20.04.21)

Distance learning is a way of studying without the learner being physically present in a classroom. It can be fully remote or ‘blended’ with in-person learning and is now usually underpinned by the use of digital technologies and resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rapid switch to distance learning. This POSTnote provides an overview of current trends in distance learning, evidence on key challenges and opportunities and potential future developments.

Over the past decade, advances in education technology (EdTech) have enabled an increase in distance learning practices. In 2019 the Department for Education’s EdTech strategy set out plans to embed EdTech to reduce teacher workload, increase efficiency, improve accessibility and inclusion, support excellent teaching, and improve educational outcomes in schools, colleges, and higher education.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of distance learning was increasing in higher education but uncommon in schools. The widespread closure of educational institutions because of the pandemic led to a rapid transition to fully remote distance learning for most learners. This has increased interest in how effective distance learning is and what is good practice.