Large-scale online learning programs such as MOOCs are being increasingly seen as a beacon of hope for educational and social development, especially in evolving countries. While research points to some disturbing results of such programs, for example disturbingly high rates of attrition, emerging changes to some of these large-scale programs are offering interesting solutions. This paper reports on a case study that examined how participants engaged in a 10-week pilot distant learning program that was intended to provide access to English language training to over 500 individuals working in the context of a network of private higher education institutions in countries across Latin America. Informed by numerical data collected from an end-of-course survey and an in-depth questionnaire, a virtual ethnographic approach was adopted to explore how the distant learning courses influenced both learning and the various groups of learners. Drawing on sociocultural learning theory and using a descriptive, thematic-based coding approach to the data analysis, the study revealed salient differences in various participants' experiences. Findings indicated that small group tutorials supported by a robust, low-cost videoconferencing technology that complimented an asynchronous shared language activity platform offered critical opportunities for community building, social networking and meaning-making. Yet the evidence also strongly suggests that exploiting these opportunities depended on a) institutional support, b) the varying degrees of cultural capital that learners brought to the distant learning program and c) the level of investment of teachers to actively promote agency and identity construction through inter-learner activity. While it appears possible for such large-scale, well-designed distant programs to meet educational challenges, we argue that addressing deeply-rooted contextual issues and the investment of teachers to promote agency and learner-learner interactivity must be of prime concern in order for a majority, rather than a minority of learners, to work towards achieving their potentials and goals.