In distance learning classes the teachers /instructors are remote and often the students are distributed in different countries around the globe. Courses are either available on the Internet or our sent as printed material, DVD's, CD-ROMS, and/ or audio casettes to the students’ houses or places of work.

Students are usually assigned a tutor who corrects their work and answers their questions, but they may never meet their tutor in person. Some courses employ a facilitator who generates discussion on the focus topics. Others have assignments and PowerPoint presentations for a student to view, and then the student must submit assignments, by email or into a course drop box.

Blended learning involves classes which are composed of a combination of face-to-face and distance learning. Distance learning can be synchronous (interactive in real time using voice over software such as Skype or chat functions) or asynchronous (when students discuss and participate in their classes according to their convenience). Synchronous courses present difficulties for classes composed of international students who live in different time zones and may not be awake at the same time. Hybrid classes combine elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Many proprietary and freeware virtual learning environments (VLEs) and classroom management systems (CMSs) exist, and adoption ranges from no cost to very expensive license arrangements. Some are restricted to reading and writing functions only and do not provide the means to teach ESOL students listening and speaking skills. Distance learning, when combined with computer assisted language learning (CALL) software, allows students who do not live near a major city or language center to continually improve their English.