Overall, student performance in distance learning falls well short of their in-person peers. No not everyone in every situation, but anectdotes aren't evidence. On the whole they work and are structured like classrooms, but with less interactivity (which is surprising considering how much the internet is intended to be interactive). Even the MOOCs that everyone promised were going to be different and change the world have changed their tune. Some have abandoned higher education almost entirely (focusing now on corporate training). Others are still around.
Be like this, the student who wouldn't be able to get this education otherwise. The one who can't leave thier home, or the person who is in a remote village, but has internet access and excels. These type of things did happen on occassion in the past, but they were certainly more rare. The student excelling in remote America is not really the ones we're talking about (it turns out, community colleges do an amazingly good job at preparing students for bachelors degrees, and those students might be better suited to go to the local community college). We're talking about students with no other opportunities. These are the ones that keep distance educators going.
So, with that in mind, there has been a certain amount of democratization of higher education. Now some of the best and brightest can be accessed from accross the globe. Students who might not have had a chance, can learn from them. Is it completely democratized? No, not so long as poverty exists, and not so long as the local education is subpar, but it is more democratized.
Distance Learning is based on your preference for specializations. Specialization is the key for distance learning. Higher education grooms you to evolve into an individual who has gone beyond learning and who would like to learn a little extra for advanced benefits.Distance learning gives an option to these learners to learn a little more through the distance mode if personal presence is creating a hassle to study further.