Understanding Virtual Education: Online Learning Terms

Unrecognizable schoolgirl studying at home with a notebook and doing school homework.If you’re like many people who got a very sudden and unexpected introduction to e-learning because of the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down regular school, you might be feeling a bit confused about a wide variety of online learning terms and what they mean. This article will introduce you to a number of distance education terms and you’ll want to know since online learning may be here to stay for longer than anyone ever expected.

The Many Ways to Name Using the Internet for Education

The first thing you’ve probably noticed is how it feels like there are about a million different terms to refer to the act of learning by utilizing the power and convenience of internet technology. Here are a few you may have seen or heard:

Online learning
Remote learning
Distance learning
eLearning
e-learning
Online education
Remote education
Distance education
Virtual learning
Online school
Virtual education
Web-based education
Web-based learning
electronic learning
Internet learning

Those are among the most common ways people refer to how most students around the world are currently experiencing school. They all by definition mean some version of the same thing. If the learning is instructor-led, then teachers and students are not in the same geographical location (distant or remote) and the instruction is taking place on an electronic device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or even a mobile phone such as an iPhone or Android cell phone) with access to the internet. However, in some cases a teacher isn’t even part of the equation, which is what eLearning means.

While we can hope things will get back to “normal” sooner than later, it’s hard to tell when that will be or what it will really look like as long as there are no vaccines or effective treatments for COVID-19. For this reason, it might be a good idea to get your brain around some of the online learning terms in this article you might be wondering about. Below we provide a sensible definition for each term that might otherwise leave you wondering what people are talking about.

Asynchronous Learning

This is when students can access online course materials when it suits them and at their own pace (self-paced learning) as opposed to being online at the same time as other students taking the course in a virtual classroom using something like Zoom or other online meeting platforms. Asynchronous learning has increasingly become the norm in the corporate world for training and continuing education, whereas the shift to online learning for K-12 schools during the pandemic has involved more virtual classrooms with teachers and students online at the same time. However, some online high schools like Achieve Virtual Education Academy use the asynchronous learning approach for all their courses.

Audio Conferencing

While many school districts are using online meeting platforms in order to have something that feels more like attending class, audio conferencing is another possibility, which just means not using the video component of online meetings. If a student is attending a Zoom meeting for a class and turns off the video function, they’ve essentially converted their participation in the class into an audio conference. A regular call via telephone is just between two people, but if you add in a third caller or more, then it becomes a conference.

Blended Learning

When learning involves a combination of both online and in-person activities, it’s called blended learning. This has traditionally been more common in higher education, and especially in graduate school programs where students gather at certain intervals for in-person learning activities and engage in online learning between those sessions. We mention this one because it’s possible that some school districts will explore blended learning options for the start of the next school year if the pandemic is still not fully resolved (which it probably won’t be without widely available vaccines or treatments). You might also see this referred to as hybrid learning.

Instructional Design

This term applies to any course, whether traditional or online. In K-12 schools, teachers might call it lesson planning. Instructional design refers to the process of figuring out what students need to know and then creating learning activities and gathering the materials that will teach students what they need to know. For K-12 schools, the “what they need to know” part is already spelled out in through state curriculum standards. But the design of what will happen in class and what materials will be used is up to the teachers. It’s important to note that when it comes to online learning, a lot of careful planning and hard work goes into creating rich virtual learning experiences. But the pandemic forced a sudden shift to online learning. In most cases, school districts had all of 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 simply no time for the kind of careful instructional design that would go into online learning. Typically you would want teachers to have a good deal of training before taking the plunge into virtual learning, but such is life in a global public health crisis.

Synchronous Learning

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

Video Conferencing

This is software used to creative live audio/visual connections between multiple people. In the corporate world it is often used by businesses for both meetings and training programs. In the education world, it can be used to hold a 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 intrusions into Zoom meetings/classes by people who typically have less than honorable intentions. It is a web-based video conferencing platform many schools are using to establish virtual classrooms. Other options include Google Hangouts Meet, Apple’s FaceTime (for smaller groups all on Apple devices), Cisco’s WebEx, GoToMeetings, Microsoft Teams, and many others.

Virtual Classroom

A virtual classroom can be thought of 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.

Achieve Virtual Education Academy: Online High School in Indiana

At Achieve Virtual, we have years of experience assembling online high school courses for effective asynchronous learning that students have the flexibility to engage when and where suits them best, allowing for maximum flexibility appreciated by our students. Our courses are all designed by real Indiana teachers qualified and licensed in their subject areas, and students get as much one-on-one support from instructors as they need. Our teachers are passionate about seeing their students succeed. We follow all Indiana curriculum standards, and our program is fully approved be the state department of education. Students enrolled with a full-time status pay nothing at all to attend our online high school. If you have questions or want more information, explore the Achieve Virtual website or contact us directly. We’re here to help!

2020 Fall Registration is Now Open!

Sign up for our monthly Achieve Newsletter >>>