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Commonly Used Terms in Online Ed

By Amber Hilton,
Staff Writer

New students are likely to feel more capable and confident if they're familiar with some of the commonly used terms of an online education before they enter the virtual classroom.

Online Ed, short for online education, has become a popular alternative to the traditional college experience in recent years. According to the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), online ed has permeated other education settings as well, including K-12 classrooms, corporate training programs and even government and military programs. Many students, particularly non-traditional students, prefer the flexibility of an online education. In terms of curriculum and requirements, an online college degree program is typically similar to a campus-based program, but online ed does have its own distinct language that can be overwhelming to newcomers. New students are likely to feel more capable and confident if they're familiar with some of the commonly used terms in online education before they enter the virtual classroom.

Distance education: Often used interchangeably with online education, this term technically refers to any educational situation where courses or programs are delivered by remote means. In modern times, this generally involves the use of computers, the Internet, videoconferencing and other technologies, but it can also include courses that are completed by CD-ROM, telephone and even written correspondence. The desired outcome of a distance education is distance learning, but these two terms are commonly used interchangeably as well.

Virtual classroom: An online setting where learning takes place and instructors and students interact. Often, it is accessed through a special page or portal on the school's website.

Computer-based training (CBT): This term refers to any type of instruction or learning process that relies on computer technology. The related terms computer-managed instruction (CMI) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) are also commonly used terms in online ed.

E-learning: Short for electronic learning, this term is sometimes used simultaneously with online ed, but it actually has broader applications. It generally refers to any type of education that happens by electronic means, which includes a broad range of processes and applications. It encompasses online ed and computer-based training, but can also include content delivered via CD-ROM, satellite broadcast and other means. For an example, a virtual classroom may be referred to as an e-learning environment.

Discussion board: An online forum where students and instructors can interact by posting messages for others to read. In some courses or programs, it may alternatively be referred to simply as a forum.

Electronic whiteboard: Also called a smartboard or just a whiteboard, this virtual dry-erase board is used as a tool in some online classrooms. It allows students to see what instructors, presenters or fellow classmates have written or drawn as they follow along with a lecture, presentation or class discussion.

Synchronous: When referring to an online course or program, this means that learning happens in real time. For example, students may have to log in at set times to view live lectures or participate in class discussions. Instructors can call on students, much like the traditional classroom. A variety of technologies may be used for this interaction, including electronic whiteboards, video- or audio-conferencing, and two-way live broadcasts.

Asynchronous: Used to describe a course or program in which student-to-student and student-to-instructor interactions take place intermittently rather than at set times throughout the day or week. This includes self-paced courses, e-mail communications, online discussion groups and other flexible learning options. Online ed often uses a combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning. For example, students might be able to complete most of their coursework and quizzes at their own pace, but may have to log in at certain times to participate in class discussions or take a final exam.

Last edited: April 2, 2012, 6:23 pm EST
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