Online Learning Vocabulary

If you’re like most people who got an unexpected and very sudden introduction to e-learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating the shutting down of regular school, you might be feeling a bit confused about various online learning terms and what they mean. This article introduces you to a number of online learning terms, and you’ll want to know since online learning may stay for longer than anyone ever expected.
Online learning Terminology

The Many Ways to Name Using the Internet for Education

The first thing you may have probably noticed that it might feel like there are about a million terms to refer to the act of virtual learning by utilizing the convenience of internet technology. Here are a few you may have seen or heard:

Asynchronous Learning

This is when learners can access online learning course materials at their own pace and when it suits them as opposed to being online together with the students taking the course in a virtual classroom using a platform like a Zoom or other online conference meeting platforms.

Asynchronous learning has progressively become the norm in the corporate world for employee training and continuing education, whereas the shift to universal online learning for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has involved more cybernetic classrooms with teachers and learners online at the same time. However, some online high schools use the asynchronous teaching approach for all their courses.

Audio Conferencing

Audio conferencing in online learning
While most school districts are using online conferencing platforms in order to have a learning experience that feels more like attending class, audio conferencing is another option, which just means not relying on the video element of online meetings. If a student is attending a Zoom classroom and turns off the video function, they’ve basically converted their participation in the class into an audio conference. A typical call via telephone is just between two people, but if you add in a third caller or more, then it becomes a conference call.

Blended Learning

When learning entails a combination of both online and physical face-to-face activities, it’s called blended learning. This has conventionally been more popular in higher education, especially in graduate school programs where learners gather at certain intervals for face-to-face learning activities and engage in online education between those sessions.

We mention this because it’s possible that some school districts will want to try blended learning options for the start of the next school year if the pandemic issue is still not fully resolved. You might also see this referred to as hybrid learning.

Instructional Design

This term applies to any teachable course, whether online or traditional. In high schools, teachers might call it lesson planning. Instructional design denotes the process of figuring out what learners need to know and then creating learning material and activities that will teach them what they need to know. The “what they need to know” part is normally already spelled out in through the state’s school curriculum standards.

But the design of what happens in class and what materials will be relied on is up to the teachers. It’s significant to note that when it comes to virtual learning, a lot of hard work and careful planning goes into creating rich virtual learning experiences. But the COVID-19 pandemic forced a sudden shift to online teaching.

In most cases, school districts had about a week or two to figure out the delivery of remote education—not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been emergency e-learning in a crisis. There was not enough time for the kind of careful instructional design that would go into 100% effective online learning. Typically you would want instructors to have a good deal of e-learning training before taking the plunge into online learning, but such is life in a global public health crisis.

Synchronous Learning

As you can possibly figure out from the previous definition of asynchronous learning, synchronous learning means learners and the instructor, although not in the same geographical location, are engaged in the learning process at the same time, typically through virtual classroom platforms or video conferencing software.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing in online learning
This is software used to create live audio/visual connections between multiple persons. In the corporate world, it is popularly used by businesses for both training and meetings programs. In the education world, it can be used to hold a virtual class without gathering together in person. If you didn’t know what Zoom was before, you probably do now, including how vulnerable it can be to “Zoom bombing,” which is unwanted impositions into Zoom meetings/classes by people with typically less than honorable intentions. It is a web-based video conferencing platform many schools are using to establish virtual classes. Other options include Apple’s FaceTime, Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and many others.

Virtual Classroom

virtual classroom can be thought of as a digital classroom learning environment. This is the way most K-12 schools are trying to achieve some semblance of normality in online learning, using video conferencing software or web-based video conferencing platforms (Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, and many others) so the teacher and all the students can see each other during class and allow for some interaction and collaboration during instruction.

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