Helpful Terms and Definitions for Navigating Online Education Options

Apr 21, 2020 | Learning Design

With the continued shift to online learning, we’re seeing a variety of labels tossed about — remote learning, online education, distance learning — to represent generically different forms of online education and diverse sets of features. Within that context, here is a brief glossary of terms and definitions to help people navigate the expanding universe of online learning.

Online Course Models

Self-Paced Courses

In self-paced courses, students progress at their own pace, with minimal guidance from an instructor. These courses do not generally have set beginning or end dates and students can complete assignments and take exams according to whatever schedule works best for them. In self-paced courses, the learning experience is predominantly asynchronous and students can control their own path or sequence of activity.

Instructor-Led Cohort Courses

Many colleges and universities offer instructor-led cohort-based online courses. These online courses are the most similar to traditional face-to-face courses. They feature fixed beginning and end dates for the course and an established schedule for completing assignments and exams. These courses feature both synchronous and asynchronous instruction and often require students to interact with classmates who comprise the cohort. 

Blended Courses

Blended courses combine online course materials and interaction with traditional place-based classroom activities. These courses require the physical presence of both teacher and student for discussion and experiential activities while providing students some control of pacing, place, and learning pathway in their online studies.

Online Courses for High School Students Seeking College-Credit 

Concurrent-Enrollment Courses

With concurrent-enrollment courses, high school students enroll in courses for college credit but the courses do not count toward high school graduation. In a concurrent-enrollment scenario, high school students are concurrently enrolled at two institutions (their school and a college), work in two different learning environments, and receive instruction and support from different sources.

Dual-Credit Courses

Dual-credit courses offer students, simultaneously, high school and college credit. Students taking a dual-credit Biology course with a lab, for example, can apply that single course toward science requirements for their high school graduation and college credit that counts toward a degree.

Early College High School

This is a term that is used both to programs that provide concurrent-enrollment or dual-credit courses for high school students, as well as to programs that offer students the ability to earn an associate degree while completing their high school graduation requirements.

Online Course Design Features

Synchronous Instruction and Engagement

“Synchronous” refers to real-time or instant interaction in an online course. Examples of synchronous instruction and engagement include live video lectures with Q&A sessions and live group events facilitated by online video or instant messaging.

Asynchronous Instruction and Engagement

“Asynchronous” refers to learning interaction that is not real-time and does not occur in the same place or at the same time. Examples of asynchronous learning activities include online readings, pre-recorded videos, and discussion board activities, and email correspondence.

Individualized Learning

We apply this term for learning experiences that are controlled by or adapted to the individual learner. In courses that feature individualized learning, the outcomes are the same for all students but individual students can navigate through course content at different speeds and based on their own learning needs. Individualized courses often feature individualized messaging and adaptive capabilities to ensure that students’ individual learning needs are being addressed adequately.

Student Engagement

Student engagement refers to a student’s active and motivated involvement in the online learning process. The concept of student engagement is based on the belief that improvements in student learning can be correlated directly to increased student interest, inquiry, and agency. These, in turn, are often activated by resting curriculum relevance through a connection to students’ personal experience and real-world situations.

Learning Outcomes

In the context of online education, learning outcomes are measurable statements that describe the knowledge or skills students should acquire by the end of a particular assignment, class, or course.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy consists of three learning domains, each of which are assigned levels of complexity and specificity. These domains and levels are used by educators to classify educational learning outcomes. They are also used to establish parameters for the types of assignments or interactions requires to promote student performance and learning at desired levels in the taxonomy.

Rubric-Based Assignments

A rubric is a scoring tool that explicitly represents the performance expectations for an assignment or piece of work. A rubric divides the assigned work into component parts and provides clear descriptions of the characteristics of the work associated with each component, at varying levels of mastery. Ideally, rubrics are tied directly to specific learning outcomes and levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

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