Digital Learning Definitions
Higher education uses many variations of terms to describe slightly different digital learning modalities, such as: “in-person,” “online,” “hybrid,” “hyflex,” “synchronous,” “asynchronous,” and many more. These variations have long confused students, faculty, administrators, and the general public.
WCET has examined this issue from the point of view of faculty, administrators, policy makers, and (most importantly) students. Our recent research shows:
- While there are differences, there actually is general Agreement with Digital Learning Definitions.
- Meanwhile federal, state, and accreditation policies defining “distance education” differ significantly. On its own, the U.S. Department of Education has four different definitions.
- The bottom line is that, whether through definitions or other information sources, students just want to know the answers to simple questions at the time of enrollment in each class:
- Are there in-person requirements?
- Are there synchronous requirements?
- What are the hardware and software requirements?
Watch for more work from WCET on definitions.
Recent Work in This Area
What To Do When the Modality Of A Learning Experience is Unclear:
Guidelines for Creating Multidimensional Learning Experiences
September 16, 2023
The mix of technologies used in postsecondary instruction has become increasingly more varied, and information with students about instructional experiences can be confusing. Building upon on a series of WCET works over the past year on digital learning definitions, this paper presents several complex cases, based on real-world examples, where the learning modality is unclear. Discussion includes guidance and recommendations for categorizing and naming learning experiences that do not fit neatly into one category or another.Download the Full Report
Defining Key Terms Related to Digital Learning – Student, Faculty, and Technology Trends
March 30, 2023
To investigate anticipated trends toward technology use and how technologies are being used, WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) funded a survey that asked a series of questions about the role of technology in the current higher education landscape. Dr. Jeff Seaman from Bay View Analytics conducted the survey and worked with Dr. Nicole Johnson to analyze the data. WCET and the researchers worked in partnership with the following organizations: the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA), Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Quality Matters, and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The participants for this study consisted of 987 higher education faculty and 1,051 administrators, (for a total of 2,038 participants representing 870 different institutions from all fifty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.)Download the Full Report
Defining "Distance Education" in Policy: Differences Among Federal, State, and Accreditation Agencies
March 7, 2023
There are many (many!) terms used in higher education to describe the wide variety of course delivery options used today. The definitions of said terms have important policy and practice implications for higher education institutions and stakeholders. This new report from WCET and SAN reviews the definitions of “Distance Education” and how it is commonly used in higher education policies. The purpose of the review is to highlight the challenges the varied definitions (of just this one term) can cause for colleges and universities as they attempt to adhere to compliance and other regulatory responsibilities.Download the Full Report
Defining Different Modes of Learning: Resolving Confusion and Contention Through Consensus
September 1, 2022
There has been longstanding contention about how terms related to online and hybrid learning should be defined. In this study, we report survey findings on how administrators and faculty apply the following terms in practice: online learning, hybrid learning, hyflex learning, in-person learning, synchronous learning, and asynchronous learning. Drawing upon the literature, the research team developed survey definitions for each of these terms. The survey then asked participants to rate the extent to which they agreed with the survey definitions. A total of 987 faculty and 1,051 administrators participated in the study. Participants represented the full range of higher education institutions in the United States. The key finding from the study is that there was widespread agreement with the survey definitions, which is contrary to much of the literature that indicates confusion and contention about how online and hybrid learning terms should be defined. In light of the findings, we provide a framework for categorizing common learning modes and the variations that exist within these modes. This study provides a foundation for establishing common language and shared understandings as online and hybrid course offerings (and learning technologies, in general) continue to evolve.Download the Full Paper
Defining Key Terms Related to Digital Learning
September 21, 2022
To address the ongoing debate about how terms related to online and hybrid learning should be defined, WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) funded a survey to explore the meanings of these terms. Dr. Jeff Seaman from Bay View Analytics conducted the survey and worked with Dr. Nicole Johnson to analyze the data. WCET and the researchers worked in partnership with the following organizations: the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA), Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Quality Matters, and the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The purpose of this report is to provide a brief overview of the findings from this study, which are described in detail in the article published in the Online Learning Journal.Download Report
INFOGRAPHIC - Agreement with Digital Learning Definitions
Survey of Higher Education Faculty and Administrators
September 21, 2022
A bar chart is depicted with each digital learning term, the brief definition, and the percentage of survey respondents agreeing with that definition.View
INFOGRAPHIC - Agreement with Digital Learning Definitions, International Comparisons
September 21, 2022
A bar chart is depicted with each digital learning term, the brief definition, and the percentage of survey respondents agreeing with that definition as broken down by surveys of U.S. respondents vs. Canadian respondents.View
Digital Learning and Distance Education Definitions – Where there is clarity, confusion, and what matters to the students?
In this month’s Closer Conversation, we will discuss some of the key insights from WCET’s forthcoming report “Definitions of Distance Learning” about the need for effective, student-centered polices around digital learning and distance education definitions. Members are encouraged to...
Finding and Providing Clarity Amidst the Array of Digital Learning Definitions and Modalities
The webcast will highlight two recent reports: Toward a Hybrid Future, written by Minerva Project, which explores how to design high-quality hybrid learning that matches learning objectives, learning modality, and learner needs, A forthcoming report from WCET and the WCET State...
Navigating the Confusing Array of Digital Learning Definitions
As students sign up for courses, they are faced with course delivery options such as online, remote, hybrid, hyflex, synchronous, and asynchronous – but how these are defined is not always clear, and they vary even within an institution...