The distance education programme was initiated by Universiti Sains Malaysia USM) in 1971 as an off-campus programme. It is the premier and pioneer programme offering university education via distance learning in Malaysia.
Since 1994, this programme has been formally known as the Distance Learning Programme (RPJJ. It is managed exclusively by the School of Distance Education (SDE-USM). Currently, SDE comprises approximately 77 academic staff, of whom 95% have a PhD qualification. In addition, there are about 25 part-time lecturers who are involved in managing courses in each academic session. Besides, the SDE has approximately 52 full-time administrative and support staff to assist in the running of the distance education program.

Distance education at SDE-USM utilizes a blended learning approach that takes into account pedagogical and cost effectiveness as well as the current developments in information and communication technology (ICT. Teaching materials are distributed to students in diverse formats while the teaching and learning process is conducted via several approaches, either face to face or by means of ICT media.
Undergraduate students are required to select a major and a minor package for the entire duration of study. In view of the fact that the SDE-USM provides part-time university education opportunities for working adults, the duration of study is set between 5 to 12 years.