Learning online is a vast landscape. If asked, most of us would describe learning online in one specific way: learning on a computer. But learning online is more nuanced and includes a spectrum of characteristics. The terms online learning, virtual learning, e-learning, distance learning, and blended learning are unique; each refers to the act of using technology in learning, but how students engage in that process is slightly different.
While conducting my research, the primary conclusion I came to is that the education world does not universally agree on what each term means. Some people use these terms interchangeably while others had differing definitions for the same term. The definitions below represent the most common, and in my professional opinion, the most accurate and current definitions.
What Is Online Learning?
- Online learning always involves an internet connection and can include virtual face-to-face interactions (webinar, online lecture, virtual meeting)
- Uses online tools for learning, such as online curriculum or virtual space or conferencing software.
- Could be considered a mix of virtual learning and blended learning.
What Is Virtual Learning?
- Instruction is delivered through the internet, software, or both.
- Can be used inside or outside the physical building of the educational organization.
- Uses the computer and an online program or software to enhance the learning experience.
- Can be used in a self-pacing format (individualized) or live web conferencing between students and instructors.
- Students have remote access to content and instructors.
- Student can connect and interact with other students and their instructors online.
What Is E-Learning?
- E-Learning utilizes digital tools for teaching and learning, and the technology facilitates the learning process.
- Can be used online or in a classroom setting.
- Students take a course from a teacher but only interact with the teacher online.
- Students have unlimited access to the content.
- The course completion, program, or degree is distributed online.
What Is Distance Learning?
- Same structure as online learning.
- Specific purpose is to attract students from all locations.
- Can provide instruction to someone learning in a different time and place than that of the teacher and other students.
What Is Blended Learning?
- Blended learning is the combination of classroom and virtual learning.
- Ideally integrates virtual learning in a way that individualizes and enhances instruction for students.