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Online Learning Terms to Know


As everyone makes the transition to online learning, there are a few terms and distinctions that can get confusing. Here is some basic terminology to help you find your way.

Remote Learning: Many colleges and universities chose this term to describe the temporary shift to online instruction and learning that took place in the spring of 2020 following coronavirus campus closures.

Online Learning: Traditional online courses are taught entirely on virtual platforms over the Internet. There is distance between students and teachers, and these courses utilize online tools to help facilitate everything from office hours to test administration.

E-Learning: This typically refers to the online interactions between a student and the teacher. E-learning can be a component of both in-person classroom and online settings.

Blended Learning: A hybrid of traditional on-campus learning and virtual classwork, blended learning generally includes an in-class component but much of the course will be conducted through online tools such as pre-recorded lectures and assignments.

Distance Learning: Synonymous with online learning, this term was coined to encourage students around the world to participate without having to travel abroad for schooling.

Hybrid Degree or Program: Hybrid programs use blended learning for all coursework, or a combination of traditional classroom instruction and online classes, giving students the best of both worlds.

Accreditation: Accreditation functions as quality assurance for higher education institutions. It assesses the quality of academic programs and stimulates the continuous improvement of both academic quality and standards. There are two basic types of accreditation: institutional and specialized/programmatic. Institutional accreditation indicates that each program and department within the institution is contributing to institutional objectives, while specialized/programmatic accreditation applies to specific programs, departments or schools within an institution.

Low Residency: This type of program only requires a short period of residential living — the rest of the program happens on online platforms with distance learning. The amount of on-campus education depends largely on the program, but is usually just a few weeks per calendar year. This type of program affords students a large amount of flexibility. They generally have designated mentors to help them stay on track.

For-Profit and Non-Profit: The difference between a for-profit and a non-profit higher education institution is how tuition money is spent. A non-profit university has to reinvest most of its revenue back into the school, improving things like student resources and faculty salaries. A for-profit university functions more like a business with profit to its investors being a primary focus. However, it is still in the for-profit university’s best interest to uphold a high educational standard in order to be competitively ranked. Being for-profit or non-profit doesn’t necessarily make one institution better than another, but it is important to check the accreditation of a university to ensure that they uphold high standards of education and have their students’ best interests at heart.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning: Synchronous learning is real-time online learning, where the professor and students all gather at a specific time to interact on a specific online medium. Synchronous learning allows online instruction to be collaborative, engaging and dynamic. The professor can answer questions from the class and go into more depth if necessary. Because synchronous learning happens real-time, it makes for a rigid schedule and those who experience technical difficulties are at a disadvantage. Asynchronous learning happens on a student's preferred schedule. Lectures are generally pre-recorded with assignments available for students to complete in their own time, at their own pace. This provides a large degree of flexibility though it does naturally involve a lot of self-guided learning which isn't ideal for students who thrive in a more interpersonal, collaborative setting.

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