Back to Digital Learning

Glossary: Digital Learning

Photo credit: sirawut/Adobe Stock

Back to Digital Learning

Following are some of the terms that come up in reporting on digital learning and online education.

Asynchronous or synchronous instruction: Online courses are typically delivered in one of two ways. They can take place at a set time each week, with the professor and students meeting in a Zoom call or other live platform, in what is referred to as synchronous instruction. Or students can go through the material on demand at a time of their choosing, in what is known as asynchronous instruction. There are pros and cons of each approach, and some online courses do a hybrid of the two.

Competency-Based Education, or CBE: An approach to teaching in which students learn at their own pace. While traditional courses end take place over a set period of time, such as 14 weeks, a competency-based program ends when the student is able to prove mastery of a set of concepts, often called competencies. Some major online colleges, including Western Governors University, have shifted to CBE.

Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA: Federal law that protects privacy of interactions involving all students, which can be more challenging for colleges in an online format. (Here’s a FERPA explainer, and here’s what to do if you’re told you can’t get a document because of FERPA.)

Flipped learning: A growing teaching technique called flipped learning asks students to watch lecture videos online before class sessions so that class time can be used for more interactive activities.

Hyflex teaching: During the pandemic, many colleges moved to an instructional model that lets students seamlessly shift between in-person and online versions of a course, even during the same semester. In this “hyflex’ approach, instructors must make versions of all teaching materials and experiences available both remotely and in person, so that students who cannot get to the classroom because of, say, illness or health concerns, can participate.

Massive open online course, or MOOC: Large-scale online courses, usually offered for free or very low cost, which can include more than 100,000 students in the same course.

Online Program Manager, or OPM: A company that colleges hire to help them set up online degree programs. An OPM not only provides services like sophisticated efforts to market online programs to potential students, but it typically helps finance online expansions, paying for the program development in exchange for a share of tuition revenue for a decade or more. Examples include major textbook providers such as Pearson, as well as newer players like 2U.