In the world of online education, the Oppida team recognises that there is a lot of terminology to keep up with. New buzzwords appear in the education lexicon all the time—especially as technology evolves. And to many, the new terminology may seem like unfamiliar technical jargon. However, some of the latest terms on the digital education landscape are vital knowledge for Learning Designers and course development project teams. At Oppida, we aim to support upskilling to better understand online learning to achieve better online course and program results. And where better to start than by mastering the terminology?
As you journey into the world of digital learning—or designing for digital learning—you may come across phrases and expressions that are new to you or are employed in unexpected ways. Not to worry: we’ve put together a useful glossary of popular online education vocabulary to help you master the language. While this list is not exhaustive, it will certainly assist you.
In addition, we created a digital learning “technical table” which covers the more technical vocabulary and offers a use case as well to support understanding.
Both can be found below and are updated regularly!
Online learning glossary
|Learning Designer||LD||A professional who understands how people learn and uses this perception to drive the creative designs of digitally-led learning experiences—both delivered synchronously and asynchronously.|
|Subject Matter Expert||SME||A professional who has expert knowledge or experience in a chosen field or multiple fields and is committed to crafting a coherent and robust learning experience with the Learning Designer.|
|Project Manager||PM||A professional who understands the vision of a project, builds the multidisciplinary team needed, develops the project plan and guides all team members to achieve each set milestone on time and to budget.|
|Facilitator||A professional who guides and assesses learners’ knowledge, to help them build upon or expand it, during a learning experience. Facilitators are also often referred to as instructors or teachers.|
|Learning Management System||LMS||A technological tool for training organisations to register, track and monitor activity in the training function.|
|Students Management Systems||SMS||A technological infrastructure tool that supports administration departments to track, maintain and manage all data generated by learners, including student grades, attendance, and interpersonal activities records, and so on. Often, SMSs require integration with an LMS.|
|Learning Experience Platforms||LXP||A technological tool for creating more personalised learning experiences, typically used by large corporations as their ‘all staff’ portal hosting for all types of resources, learning, and collaborative opportunities.|
|Learning platform||A technological tool for creating basic learning experiences as well as to market and sell these on for a business to consumer commercial model. Often used by small businesses, entrepreneurs, coaches and consultants.|
|Program||A structured learning journey, often spanning months or years, that supports the development of a specific capability (skills, knowledge and attributes) through a blend of learning methods—synchronously and asynchronously. |
This term is mostly used by universities, continuing professional development providers and executive educators.
|Qualification||Similar to a program, a qualification is a structured learning journey, often spanning months or years, that supports the development of a specific capability (skills, knowledge and attributes) through a blend of learning methods—synchronously and asynchronously. |
This term is mostly used in the vocational sector.
|Course||Either delivered stand-alone or within a program, a course is a crafted learning journey to support the development of a specific capability (skills, knowledge and attributes) through a blend of learning methods—synchronously and asynchronously. |
A course describes a smaller learning opportunity provided in the form of a MOOC, qualification or microcredential.
|Subject||A structured learning journey, within a formal program (for example, 12 subjects may make up a program), either at school or university, for the development of a specific capability (skills, knowledge and attributes) through a blend of learning methods—synchronously and asynchronously.|
|Unit||Similar to a subject, unit is the term used more often in the vocational sector to describe the various content areas that make up a qualification or program.|
|Module / Session / Part||A way to segment a unit, course or subject; module/session/part are terms to describe these smaller learning journeys arranged in a linear fashion, to teach a particular learning outcome(s) through a blend of learning methods—synchronously and asynchronously.|
|Topic||Content related to a particular concept or idea within a module/session/part.|
|Storyboard||A document designed and used by Learning Designers to plan and build out the course content. Usually at module/session/part level and customisable to each project but with consistent elements to support other team members to understand the learning journey.|
|Andragogy||Theory, model or strategy of adult learning anchored in the characteristics and specific circumstances surrounding adults.|
|Pedagogy||Theory, model or strategy of childhood learning anchored in the characteristics and specifics of the experiences of children.|
|Universal Design for Learning||UDL||An approach and practical framework for educators that, when followed, gives all learners equal opportunity to succeed.|
|Digital learning||Any learning experience that is facilitated and/or assisted by any technology. Often used to describe learning experiences that have a high component of digital delivery.|
|Blended learning||The practise of using both online and face to face, synchronous and asynchronous, learning experiences. For example, in a blended-learning experience, learners might attend a class taught by a teacher in a traditional classroom setting (or online) while also independently completing online components of the course outside of the classroom.|
Blended learning can also be called hybrid learning or mixed-mode learning.
|Assessment||Designed to evaluate learner performance and come in various forms, such as quiz, reflection, essay, report, presentation. Ideally, all assessments are aligned with the learning outcomes of a course to measure learner progress accurately.|
|Synchronous Learning||Synchronous learning describes forms of education, instruction, and learning that occur simultaneously but not necessarily in the same place. The term typically refers to various forms of televisual, digital, and online learning in which students learn from instructors, colleagues, or peers in real-time, but not in person.|
|Asynchronous Learning||Asynchronous learning describes forms of education, instruction, and learning that the learner can engage with at their own time and pace. The term typically refers to various forms of online learning in which students learn from instruction (prerecorded video lessons, game-based learning tasks that students complete on their own) that is not being delivered in person or in real-time.|
|Self-directed learning||During this process, individuals take the initiative to steer their own pace and engage with the learning experience, with or without the help of others. The learner is responsible for diagnosing their learning needs, formulating their learning goals, identifying additional resources they need, and reflecting on the learning outcomes.|
|Human-centred design||HCD||Human-centred design considers end-users in every aspect of the design and development process. An understanding of who will be using the learning solution and what their needs are is an essential part of the design process.|
|Cohort enrolment||The term applies to a program or course that is delivered to a group, within a set time period. All learners are expected to journey through the content at a similar pace.|
|Rolling enrolment||The term applies to a program or course that learners can enrol in any time they like. Often there is a time period attached to access, but that is linked to the provider’s value proposition. For example, membership-based platforms for learning predominantly all offer rolling enrolment and access is unlimited as long as you pay the monthly fees.|
|Just-In-Time learning||JIT||A term to describe when an individual seeks, in real-time, a solution to a problem, an answer to a question or information to learn a new skill. They may use the internet, YouTube or other digital content mediums to gain this in the immediate instance. For example, someone may use YouTube to seek further support to build a piece of Ikea furniture.|
|Massive Open Online Course||MOOC||A popular model for delivering learning content solely online (typically short courses) to an unlimited amount of people globally.|
|Marketplace||A central location where learners can find a variety of courses/programs in a variety of topics. Often curated by the host, or through enrolment and success criteria on the facilitators providing the content.|
|Microcredential||Like mini-degrees or certifications in a specific topic area. They can either be broad, such as ‘Machine Learning,’ or specific, like ‘Using Data to Differentiate Instruction for ELL Students’. To earn a microcredential, learners often need to complete a certain number of activities, assessments, or projects related to the topic. Once the requirements are complete, learners submit work in order to earn the credential.|
|Badge||Digital proof of completion/achievement of a particular learning experience. Often providers stipulate that X number of badges can equal Y certification.|
|Rich media||Any audio, visual or interactive learning assets used to build a learning journey. For example, teaching videos, podcasts, animations, H5P interactive and complex branched scenarios.|
|Webinar||A seminar, lecture or presentation that happens in an online collaborative environment and supports remote participation with discussions and other learning activities.|
|Agile Methodology||A set of practices to support project management and help improve the effectiveness of teams.||Use Agile Methodology to motivate efficiency in project development and support iteration and improvement in teamwork.|
|Alternative text or Alt-text||A short written description of a graphic or image to improve content accessibility.||Alt-text is read aloud to users by screen reader software, actively write the description to convey the ‘why’ of the image in relation to the surrounding content.|
|Application Programming Interface||API||APIs are a tool that allows one piece of software to interact with another.||Use an API to pull in data from a server computer to a client computer.|
|Authoring tools||Tools that assist in the creation of digital content.||While as simple as a Google Document or complex as video production software, authoring tools in online learning also includes software for creating interactive activities, quizzes, virtual simulations, and much more.|
|Beta testing||A type of user acceptance testing to get real-world engagement and feedback to make improvements from.||Use beta testing to check course content’s effectiveness, usability, and functionality with an unbiased audience outside of the development team.|
|Cascading Style Sheet||CSS||A style sheet language that describes how markup languages such as HTML should be displayed.||Use CSS to style fonts, headings, colour themes, spacing, etc. within your content.|
|Content Delivery Network||CDN||A global network of servers across multiple data centres that enables high availability and high performance when learners view content.||Reduce load times and buffering by increasing content availability via cached versions of assets across a CDN.|
|Content Management System||CMS||An application framework that supports content organisation, modification, and presentation.||WordPress is a well-known CMS that allows you to create websites as well as store and share content.|
|Customer Relationship Management||CRM||A tool to manage the entire student enrolment lifecycle.||Use a CRM to store student data, track analytics, and report on student progress.|
|Extensible Markup Language||XML||A text format similar to HTML though you can define your own tags and use XML to support data transfer.||Use alongside HTML to describe the nature of your data for structure and formatting inside an LMS.|
|Gamification||The practice of applying gaming formats and tactics to boost student participation and engagement in online learning activities.||Use gamification to make the online learning experience more enjoyable, immersive and interactive.|
|Graphics Interchange Format||GIF||A light, appealing and effective resource for information transfer.||Use an animated GIF to share an idea or explain a complex visual.|
|Hypertext Markup Language||HTML||A standard markup language that helps create and organise web content in an orderly fashion.||HTML tags define how a program displays your data and specifies how your content will appear on the screen.|
|Hypertext Transfer Protocol||HTTP||HTTP transfers data, such as HTML documents, across the Web.||Everything you see in your browser is transmitted to your computer over HTTP.|
|Interactivity||Active, intentional exercises that encourage communication between a learner and software.||H5P activities support interaction through word clouds, quizzes, hotspots, and more inside of a subject.|
|Interoperability||A characteristic of a tool, product or system, whose interfaces connect and work smoothly with other tools, products or systems.||The integration of online video platforms such as YouTube or Wistia to play outside resources within a course module inside an LMS.|
|Learning Management System||LMS||A framework specifically designed to store, manage learning content, track learners’ results, and support interactive engagement with content.||Canvas LMS features provide dynamic structure and content organisation geared towards creating a quality learner experience where a CMS doesn’t.|
|Learning Tools Interoperability||LTI||LTI allows you to easily plug and play a wide variety of external tools, content and activities into your LMS.||Add an LTI tool into your course structure as a resource link using your LMS’ control panel.|
|mLearning or mobile learning||To provide learning across multiple contexts, through social and content interactivity, aimed at personal electronic devices.||Support learners to access their course material at any convenient time by ensuring content is responsive to mobile devices.|
|Open-source||Open-source copyrights grant users the opportunity to edit, study, modify, and share software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose.||Moodle is an open-source LMS platform with a large community that has grown around the project.|
|Responsive design||Responsive design ensures that content automatically adjusts according to the screen size it is viewed on.||Design your online courses to look good on mobile and tablets as well as laptop or desktop screens.|
|Root cause analysis||A troubleshooting method to identify the root causes of technical faults or problems.||Problem solve any front-end content complication with root cause analysis to identify the back-end code issue.|
|Sandbox||A virtual environment where developers can test new features and code without impacting live production sites.||To test a proposed adjustment in your LMS, set up the same scenario in your sandbox to ensure any changes won’t cause issues when released to your learners.|
|Scalability||A scalable LMS will grow with your evolving user numbers.||If you have large numbers of learners then choose an LMS that is sufficiently robust for successful scaling.|
|Scaffolding||A framework that guides and supports learning.||Scaffolding can help learners navigate difficult coursework and develop subject mastery.|
|Screen reader||A software device that enables people with visual impairments to interact with courses.||A screen reader automatically starts reading visual content when it appears to learners with visual impairment.|
|Shareable Content Object Reference Model||SCORM||A set of technical specifications to provide a common approach for developing and using online learning content.||SCORM is a way of setting up an online learning course so that it will run from any LMS.|
|Software as a Service||SaaS||Software hosted by a third-party provider accessible over the internet||Use SaaS tools to support team collaboration of your online course development process.|
|Styleguide||A styleguide or stylesheet provides convention and rules for design patterns, document writing, and programming code.||Share a language styleguide with your team to ensure everyone follows the same writing, spelling, punctuation and grammar rules.|
|Usability||A crucial success factor in online learning that helps learners achieve learning objectives and gain knowledge effectively.||Usability characterises how simple it is for your learners to navigate and interact with your course.|
|User Experience||UX||How a learner interacts with and experiences your online course on your chosen platform or LMS.||Create the best UX in your course by ensuring quality design, easy navigation and full accessibility.|
|User Acceptance Testing||UAT||To ensure your course is fit for its intended purpose and supports a great learner experience.||Gather a small group of people from your target learner audience and let them test your course to provide feedback.|
Our glossary is jam-packed full of helpful terms, which we’ll update as the landscape around us continues to evolve. So, bookmark this page so that you are always in the know.
For more digital learning terms and definitions, please check out these curated sites:
Also, if you have any feedback about any of the existing terms, or if you have suggestions for additional vocabulary which you would want to see added in the glossary, feel free to email us firstname.lastname@example.org.