Online Education I: Key concepts

Online Education practice, although it’s already been around for a few years, it has experienced an unprecedented expansion in the last few months. 

In order to navigate the increasingly wide world of Online Education, clear understanding of key concepts is fundamental. 

Please notice that the use of some of these terms can vary from country to country, maybe even from institution to institution. We recommend to always double check with the relevant party in case of doubt.

Also, in most cases, we’ll find an interchangeably use of these terms: 

  • Distance / Remote
  • Learning / Education
  • Face-to-Face / In-Person / On-Campus / Onsite

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a pedagogical approach mixing face-to-face and online learning, with some element of learner control over time, place, path, and pace. A Blended Programme is a programme that is based on Blended Learning pedagogy. 

Digital Education

Digital education comprises two different but complementary perspectives: the pedagogical use of digital technologies to support and enhance teaching, learning and assessment and the development of digital competences by learners and education and training staff. 

It is distinguished from Online Education by comprising the development of digital competences in the curriculum and the teaching practice, but some may use both terms interchangeably. 

Distance Learning / Remote Learning

Distance Learning is a method of delivery, which involves teaching and learning activities where educators and learners are not physically present in one location at the same time. Distance Learning is used as a broad term which compromises, among others, the possibility to organise and deliver teaching and learning activities at distance (e.g. by using radio, TV or electronic resources) or online (e.g. requiring instructors and learners to use a connected device). 

In most cases, Distance Education/Learning is used as a synonym of Remote Education/Learning.

Learning Management System (LMS)

LMS (Learning Management System) is an Internet-based software platform made for delivering, tracking and managing online and blended learning. The main features of an LMS (e.g. course management, learners’ enrollment, online activity tracking, etc.) allow handling all aspects of the learning process in addition to content delivery.

LMS is often used synonymously with Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), but the first may indicate a greater focus on administration while the latter may focus more on course authoring and production.

Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs)

MOOCs are a subpart of the existing Online Learning offer. The term refers to online courses designed for a large number of learners, accessible by anyone anywhere, as long as they have an internet connection. Access and participation are free of charge, although extra services and certificates may require payment. 

They are distinguished from OER by offering a full course experience, and content that is often not free to reuse. 

Online Education / E-Learning

Online Education/Learning is a methodology involving the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and connection to the internet to support both teaching and learning. 

There are many terms used to describe online education including ICT-based learning, virtual learning and e-learning. 

It distinguishes from Distance Learning/Remote Education by having the use of ICTs and internet connection as prerequisites. Distance Learning does not necessarily involve the use of ICTs and/or internet connection. However, it often relies on ICTs and internet connection, which is why sometimes they are used interchangeably.

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Open Educational Resources (OERs) refer to teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. 

They are distinguished from MOOCs by offering content that is free to reuse but not a full course experience. 

Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

In Online Education, there are two main delivery modalities: 

  • synchronous:  happens collaboratively and simultaneously with a group of online learners and usually an educator;
  • asynchronous:  happens at any time, individually or in group, with interaction and communication spanning across time.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

The term Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is used to describe the collection of software systems that provide materials and facilities for Online Learning. These systems allow for management of all processes from course authoring to delivery of the course materials to students and recording their performance. As stated, Learning Management System (LMS) is often used synonymously with VLE but may indicate a greater focus on administration than on course authoring and production.

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