Magazine Article

A taste of the online ed lexicon

The whirlwind of new technology entering the world of higher ed has brought with it an entirely new lexicon. CFA Research Specialist Nancy Wiefek prepared this glossary of key terms used in the discussion about online education.

Asynchronous Learning—Communication exchanges which occur in elapsed time between two or more people. Examples are email, online discussion forums, message boards, blogs, podcasts, etc.

Blended learning—Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part online with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; often used synonymously with Hybrid Learning.

One example of blended learning is a “flipped classroom.” The basic idea is that the lecture or conveying of material is moved outside of the classroom and homework moves into the classroom. Technology can facilitate this process by allowing for viewing videos online at home. This can free up time for more interaction with the instructor and peers while doing homework assignments in class.

Distance education—General term for any educational activity in which the participants are at a distance from each other—in other words, are separated in space. They may or may not be separated in time (asynchronous vs. synchronous).

Home-grown content—Content developed by a teacher, school, or district for use in instruction, as compared to content developed by outside companies or other vendors.

Hybrid course—Some but not all face-to-face classroom time is displaced by online technology.

Learning Management System (LMS)—The technology platform through which students access online courses. A LMS generally includes software for creating and editing course content, communication tools, assessment tools and other features for managing the course. Often used interchangeably with “Course Management System.”

The leader in the market is Blackboard. It is seeing growing competition from Desire-2Learn as well as Moodle, an open-source LMS, and Sakai, another open-source LMS deployed primarily in research universities.

Cal State Online is a centralized system that assists with the delivery, via technology, of programs taught by CSU faculty. All programs offered through Cal State Online are required to use Pearson’s LearningStudio LMS (Learning Management System).

MOOC—An acronym for “massive open online course.” It currently refers to a webbased class designed to support a large number of participants. The initial MOOCs were network-based courses designed so that a “learning environment” could develop from the participants’ interactions.

edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider formed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

Coursera, a for-profit MOOC provider founded by two Stanford University computer professors and funded by venture capital investments.

Udacity, co-founded by Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, a for-profit provider with funding from venture capitalists. The advisory board includes Bill Bennett, Secretary of Education under Pres. Ronald Reagan.

The non-profit Khan Academy, is a MOOC-like website founded by Salman Khan. It offers free video lessons mostly in math, science, and test prep. The Gates Foundation is its biggest funder. The videos feature Khan, a former hedge fund manager.

Online course—One in which all or most of the instruction and student-instructor interaction is performed online.

On-Ground Class—A course conducted in person, in a physical classroom.

Online learning—Education in which instruction and content are delivered primarily over the internet. The U.S. Department of Education distinguishes it from printed-based correspondence education, broadcast TV or radio, videocassettes, and stand-alone educational software programs that do not have a significant Internet-based instructional component. Used interchangeably with Virtual learning, Cyber learning, elearning.

Synchronous learning—Online learning in which the participants interact at the same time and in the same space.

Web-enhanced course—The course is enhanced by online technology, but no seat time is displaced.

*Definitions draw upon The Online Learning Definitions Project put together by iNACOL.