The reasons we choose distance education are many and include working adults, parents, people with disabilities, time limitations, real world physical limitations and wanting to do more than one thing at a time as most of us do.
The idea of distance learning has been around for longer than the Internet. It has just changed so the learning comes to your computer rather than you going to the site of the learning. Distance learning using the Internet started with new programs and schools who established themselves as available at any time, which is attractive to a busy working parent. They have however evolved to include most of the brick and mortar universities who realized late in the game that this was not a fad and there is a lot of money available from adults wanting to complete their degrees but cannot afford to put their lives on hold to do it.
One of the first colleges in New York to try education without the walls was Empire State College that utilized mentors to meet on a regular basis. The problem was not enough mentors in the subject or field and not all areas could be included. They have vastly improved this system and of course also use the Internet.
Today you can learn and earn any degree online. Take care not to go with a school without credentials or your degree may have little meaning in the world of work. As an undergraduate you can combine online learning along with attending physical classes. In my opinion, students going from high school would benefit more from attending classes in a traditional college building, at least part of the time in order to meet others and socialize.
Learning through online classes takes a motivated self-starter so as not to get lost in the class assignments. Just as attending classes can be confusing at first, so can registering and doing everything online. Having a mentor or adviser you can email or talk with on the phone is essential to beginning your distance learning education.
How to start once you have determined distance education is for you? List what you want to accomplish; bachelor degree, masters degree or doctorate and then research the Internet for schools and costs and dates of entry. Walden University is a large distance learning university. They are accredited and offer some unique options along with weekend face-to-face classes and meetings and summer sessions giving students the opportunity to meet with other students and their professors. As I said check credentials of the school you are applying to and talk with admissions people and set up in person interviews if possible. Ask if you can try out the virtual classroom of the college you are considering.