What’s the difference between e-Learning, online learning, Blended Learning,…?

Janet Broder (@peachyteachy) asked this morning,

HELP! eLearning and Online Learning: Same or different? If different, why/how? And..GO! #edtech @avivaloca @royanlee @fryed @mraspinall

A bunch of folks tweeted back at her, including me, but I thought it was worth a slightly longer explanation that Twitter permitted.

There are a lot of terms

e-Learning (or eLearning, or elearning – we fight about this one), Blended Learning, virtual learning (I don’t like this one; makes it sound like it’s pretending to learn), online learning, hybrid learning, digital learning… gross, eh? They’re not all useful, and some of them make things fuzzy.

I’ll explain my take on each of them. You can have your own take; it won’t hurt my feelings.

e-Learning

This is learning in which the interaction between student and teacher is online. For us this is generally a student taking a course from a teacher without going to a physical classroom with that teacher. They might be in the same building, but the learning and the communication is done online.

There may be an offline component (for example, a student might write a response on paper), but there is always an online connection (e.g. they take a picture of their response to send to the teacher).

Blended Learning

In Ontario, Blended Learning is the use of the Provincial Learning Management System (more recently termed the virtual Learning Environment) with a face-to-face classroom. At the moment that’s using Desire2Learn with your students.

But that’s Blended Learning with capital letters. For “blended learning” I feel you only need to be using online tools. Connect your students to the Internet. That definition is more inclusive, but then it also includes some less meaningful implementations. Not all forms of blended learning are equal. Using the Internet to enhance instruction is complex, so we spend a lot of time figuring out how to do it well. [Plug: that’s a big part of On The Rise!]

Hybrid learning is the same thing, but I think is a term more commonly used in the United States.

Online Learning

For me, online learning encompasses both e-Learning and blended learning. I think of it as “using online tools for learning”. It doesn’t matter where you are on the face-to-face to e-Learning spectrum; online learning is the spectrum itself. The key element is the use of the Internet. Just like blended learning, this can be done poorly or awesomely.

Digital Learning

This one’s my favourite. This is everything. Digital learning includes online learning which includes blended learning (and Blended Learning) and e-Learning. It also includes “offline digital learning”, like using local software and digital cameras.

The picture in my mind

A venn diagram showing the relationship between the terms discussed in this post.

We’re still figuring this out…

…and in the end, it’s all just learning. I’m optimistic that we’ll get to the point where the only distinction will be whether you’re face-to-face or not; digital will be the norm.

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10 thoughts on “What’s the difference between e-Learning, online learning, Blended Learning,…?

  1. We’ve been working on these as well… currently using: (Technology) Facilitated, (Technology) Enhanced, Blended and remote/online (which includes online learning, virtual environments, virtual ‘desktops’ etc.,) but you’re right… its all about learning

  2. Seems to me the definitions are more important to administration and management than to teachers and students. It’s all about better learning by using more tools!
    Thanks for your comments!

    • I’ve never heard the term “e-Education” before. “Education” is the facilitation of learning, so perhaps it’s the teacher side of e-Learning (e-Teaching). Let me know if you find out more. It doesn’t seem to be a widely-used term.

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