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Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Are Online Learning, Virtual Learning, E-Learning, Distance Learning, and Blended Learning the Same? 600 400 Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Are Online Learning, Virtual Learning, E-Learning, Distance Learning, and Blended Learning the Same?

Are Online Learning, Virtual Learning, E-Learning, Distance Learning, and Blended Learning the Same?

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.

ven diagram

“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.”

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.

When planning online resources and incorporating learning online in the classroom, the objectives for content learning, the intended student outcomes, student needs, and student access to technology and their current digital literacy should be taken into consideration, at which point instructors can determine which approach fits their goals best.

hispanic student smiling
Four More Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons 1000 667 Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Four More Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons

Four More Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons

In Part 1, we talked about four effective instructional strategies and ways to implement them in virtual settings. In this post, we’ll explore four more strategies, each of which support student learning by promoting student ownership, metacognition, literacy, and application. Virtual settings pose particular advantages and particular challenges, so in addition to the planning of a lesson, instructors may also need to pay close attention to the organization of their instructional delivery, such as grouping, transitions, and communication protocols. Talking explicitly about these aspects of the lesson helps students know what to expect and how to engage appropriately.

“In a think aloud, the instructor narrates their thinking as they work through a text, a math problem, a lab, or other academic process in their field.”

Think Alouds

In a think aloud, the instructor narrates their thinking as they work through a text, a math problem, a lab, or other academic process in their field. The instructor, by doing so, is modeling cognitive apprenticeship, which is guidance in how to think and work as an expert in that field (see Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible). Students learn well from this type of modeling to see the what and the how of thinking and then practicing the modeled thought processes to foster understanding. Think alouds are more than giving instructions; they show how to engage with the content and the varying skills that are needed to master material. Most think alouds should focus on one skill at a time. For example, just analyzing text structure rather than analyzing the entire piece. In virtual settings, instructors could use think alouds with a simple screenshare or video feed.

Meta-Cognition Through Learning Reflection

Metacognition is a crucial skill for student success. Metacognition is when students think about their thinking to have a better sense of their understanding and then respond appropriately. For example, when we are proficient readers, we will visualize, make connections, ask questions, and see patterns within and across texts. Strong readers do this implicitly without really realizing they’re doing it. Struggling readers, however, need explicit instruction and practice in how to do this. This is where think alouds become very helpful and where reflecting on their own thinking becomes crucial. Students who can recognize when they’re struggling to comprehend a text, solve a problem, or apply concepts, and know how to pause and evaluate what to do about it, are then able to make adjustments by rereading, tracing their steps, or finding support. Instructors can foster this insight by asking students to reflect on a regular basis: What did you notice about your process while working on this task? What felt effortless and what felt challenging? What are your next steps? Building these skills in students over time will help them be more effective learners and empower them to address their own needs. In a virtual setting, instructors could pose questions and have students post anonymously and then reflect on class patterns in the responses, or they could have students submit reflections and address student needs as an example for the class if the student they’d like to highlight is comfortable sharing.

Preview Texts

Another way to model and promote metacognition is to model how to preview texts and support students in doing so before engaging in a complex text. Instructors can pose questions so students can preview the organization of the text, such as structure, including headings and subheadings; noting visuals, graphs, and captions; scanning for a general sense of the author’s purpose; and noting contextual details like the publication location and date, current events at that time, and the author’s background. Knowing the physical layout of the text and its features can support their comprehension and give them a solid foundation from which to build a deeper understanding. Students will learn to do this independently and can use it with any challenging text. The purpose is skill development and to make the implicit habits of strong readers explicit for struggling readers, giving them access to complex texts. Teaching basic skills with complex texts builds greater literacy skills then complex responses to simple texts. Virtually, students can tackle one aspect of the preview with a small group and then share out, the teacher can model the preview with a think aloud, or students can practice ahead of time and then share what they found as a class. Many possibilities with this strategy!

Student Presentations

Meaningful projects lend themselves well to student presentations. In addition, students can present on simpler tasks as well. Instructors can give students opportunities to share their thinking or their process for a task, their plan for accomplishing an upcoming task, or noteworthy applications of their learning. Sharing their voice can empower students to “own” their learning and promotes a more collaborative, supportive environment. Instructors can also provide guidance and feedback as appropriate and show that they value the efforts of their students, even if some adjustments to their approach or thinking need to be made. The virtual setting can be used so that students can present in pods, allowing more students to share out, have individuals present to the whole class for mutual learning and discussion, or present in a written format where students can respond and exchange ideas.

girl looking at cellphone
Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons | ConexED 1000 667 Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons | ConexED

Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons

Last week, I presented some best practices for facilitating a successful virtual meeting: checking your technology, creating a professional background, having resources available, using engaging tools and structures, and determining next steps and making sure to follow through. Likewise, participants can contribute to successful meetings by using best practices of their own. Most importantly, the length and quality of attention a person brings to a task is entirely dependent on the task and what the individual brings to the situation.

“How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation.”

A lot of sources talk about how our attention span is decreasing as our use of technology, social media, and the internet increases. A BBC article I find very interesting debunks that notion, digging into the source of the research that stated our attention spans are shorter than that of goldfish now and finding very little to back it up. The author also talks to Dr. Gemma Briggs, a lecturer in psychology at the Open University in the U.K. She says that the amount of attention we have “will vary depending on what the demand of the task is” and that “how we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation” (Busting the attention span myth, BBC, March 2017). This means that the intention and commitment we bring to a task, such as a virtual meeting where we may not even be seen or heard, greatly influences our attention span and, therefore, the amount of information we gain. While facilitators can focus on providing high-quality information using engaging meeting structures, participants can focus on paying close attention and getting the most out of the information presented. The big question is how to do that. With phones and internet readily available, what can participants do to show their commitment and keep themselves accountable to what’s happening? Below are 4 tips for being an engaged user of any virtual meeting platform, whether one-on-one or in a group.

Problems of Practice

The problem of practice strategy is a protocol for presenting a challenge to peers and then having structured discussions and feedback. The general protocol is that the speaker or presenter explains their challenge or problem and then their peers ask clarifying questions. The speaker then must listen (he or she can take notes but not speak) while their peers discuss the challenge, offer different perspectives, and provide potential solutions. The last part of the protocol is when the speaker gets to join the conversation, respond, and reflect on the ideas. This protocol is most often used by teachers and administrators for solving tough challenges in their work, but students could also use this protocol with each other to discuss complex topics, work on problem solving an issue, explore an argument, and/or navigate personal studying challenges. This strategy lends itself well to a virtual setting because of the structured roles and pace.

Writing Workshops

Writing workshops come in many forms and protocols but generally revolve around analyzing a piece of writing as a group. One of the great things about them is that you can use a published excerpt or student work as the focus piece. The instructor or professor presents the piece, which students may have read and started analyzing independently for a published work or may be seeing the piece for the first time if it’s a student sample (please note: students should give permission to use their work as a sample or professors should do so anonymously by using a typed version without identifying information). The professor might provide a purpose for the discussion: students are analyzing the piece for content, structure, style, language use, perspective, etc. Even in non-literary classes, these characteristics can be analyzed to better understand the texts in their field and how experts go about writing them. In a virtual setting, the piece can easily be shared, dissected, and discussed, and the writing workshop facilitates a richer discussion than simply reading alone or peer editing.

Pod Discussions

Virtual discussions as a large group can be difficult because not everyone gets an opportunity to speak and body language can’t be seen. Organizing students into smaller pods and giving them separate meeting rooms may provide more equity for students to share their thinking and participate (if your virtual meeting room allows you to start whole group, move into small groups in separate rooms, and then come back together as a whole group, that’s a great resource!). Even if the large group can’t be separated, providing smaller groups of students with their own discussion channels can give students better access to each other and the conversation. Additionally, strategic grouping is greatly beneficial to student learning; students can be grouped by competency and then sometimes mixed heterogeneously and sometimes homogeneously, by topic of interest, by skill you want them to hone, by the text they read or were assigned, and a myriad other ways. Vary your groupings throughout the course based on students’ needs and interests.

Practice Questions

In terms of assessments, exposure to testing content and conditions can greatly benefit students’ learning and help them perform better on the actual exam. Hosting a webinar or meeting where students can practice with sample test questions may help retention and ease their nerves. The instructor can present questions and students can submit answers for more formal practice or do a “Think Pair Share,” where they formulate their own response or answer, discuss with a partner, and then some pairs share their thinking with the whole group, for more discussion-based practice. Confirming their correct and incorrect answers with a partner before speaking to everyone builds confidence and often elevates great questions. With either approach, students get to practice the content and receive feedback before they take the assessment.

teacher showing students on laptop
Five Tips for Promoting Faculty Wellness in Higher Ed 1000 667 Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Five Tips for Promoting Faculty Wellness in Higher Ed

Five Tips For Promoting Faculty Wellness In Higher Ed

I heard once that being a college professor is, objectively, the least stressful job available. Looking through multiple lists from career resource sites highlighting low-stress jobs, the job of professor is almost always in the top 10. The flexible hours and work-life balance, connecting with students and building relationships with them, the enjoyment of inquiry and intellect, the access to academic and cultural resources, independence and freedom, all contribute to a pretty enjoyable, tranquil career. However, no job is without its stressors, and professors face some unique demands: pursuing tenure (with the possibility of losing their current position entirely if tenure is denied); pressure to bring in grant money for research funding; publishing academic papers to reach tenure, sustain their academic contributions and relevance, and highlight their institution’s name; and meeting the needs of a student body increasingly underprepared for post-secondary coursework (Hechinger Report, 2017).

“Faculty members balance multiple roles as teachers, researchers, mentors, and managers. Three-quarters of university faculty report stress levels of moderate or higher, with ten percent reporting serious levels of stress. Elevated stress is the best predictor of faculty deciding to leave academia.”

The Office of the Provost at Northwestern University writes that “faculty members balance multiple roles as teachers, researchers, mentors, and managers. Three-quarters of university faculty report stress levels of moderate or higher, with ten percent reporting serious levels of stress. Elevated stress is the best predictor of faculty deciding to leave academia” (2019). Similar to secondary teachers, high levels of stress sustained over a period of time increases attrition, a detrimental cost to schools and the success of students. With reported stressors such as anxiety, burnout, difficulties with students, work-life imbalance, alcohol or drug abuse, as well as personal stressors like family strains (Office of the Provost, Northwestern University, 2019), providing wellness resources for faculty may be a key investment for higher education institutions. Ideally, a multi-faceted wellness program would be accessible to all faculty with the goal of helping them be happier and more productive. A few ways to support faculty wellness are:

Coaching and Professional Mentorship

Faculty are experts in their field, but few to none have been taught pedagogy, or how to teach. The traditional approach of professors lecturing the information and students being largely responsible for mastering it—alone—are fading. A movement toward more interactive, collaborative, and constructivist teaching methods is on its way, and professors will need guidance in how to implement effective instructional strategies. Additionally, mentorship in their field as well as in research, funding, and publishing can make a huge difference in the professional and personal success of a newer faculty member.

Counseling Services

High quality counselors help prevent issues from escalating and can provide much needed relief during times of challenge. Counselors help us feel heard, provide insight, and work toward solutions. Faculty should have access to counselors who can guide them through personal and professional challenges gracefully and effectively.

Family Resources

Childcare on campuses will hopefully be accessible, affordable, and ubiquitous someday. Currently, even faculty members have to suffer long waiting lists for their institution’s childcare facility. In my own experience, even though my husband was a faculty member and I was a graduate student at our shared university, we spent years on the waiting list and never got to send our daughter there. Cost is another factor that creates significant stress to families. Making childcare a much easier resource to navigate would go a long way in easing professors’ stress.

Access to Fitness Facilities

Physical wellbeing is a crucial part of overall wellness. Fitness centers are commonplace, but institutions can go one step further by implementing wellness programs that provide incentives to faculty members for participating, providing a variety of classes and programs like meditation and bootcamp, and keeping the facilities clean and up to date.

Ombudsman Services

I was unaware of what an ombudsman was until I was a doctoral student. Jefferson University defines a college or university ombudsman as “a designated neutral or impartial dispute resolution practitioner whose major function is to provide confidential and informal assistance to constituents of the university or college community (this may include students, staff, faculty and/or administrators).” Their definition continues as “an advocate for fairness who acts as a source of information and referral, and aids in answering individual’s questions, and assists in the resolution of concerns and critical situations.” Faculty can go to their campus’s ombudsman for support and guidance with difficult situations. The main action for colleges and universities is to make sure they communicate that this resource exists so faculty can access them when needed.

Faculty wellness is important for both the faculty member and the students he/she serves because “faculty wellness is viewed as an essential foundation for developing responsive and integrated learning-centered curricula; for enhancing the quality of teaching and student learning experiences; for positive and productive learning communities; and, for effective communications and problem-solving at the institutional, departmental and individual levels” (Hubbell & West, 2008). For a happier, healthier, and more constructive faculty, wellness is a necessary and welcome priority.

Four Tips for Participating in a Virtual Meeting | ConexED 1024 576 Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D.

Four Tips for Participating in a Virtual Meeting | ConexED

Four Tips for Participating in a Virtual Meeting

Last week, I presented some best practices for facilitating a successful virtual meeting: checking your technology, creating a professional background, having resources available, using engaging tools and structures, and determining next steps and making sure to follow through. Likewise, participants can contribute to successful meetings by using best practices of their own. Most importantly, the length and quality of attention a person brings to a task is entirely dependent on the task and what the individual brings to the situation. A lot of sources talk about how our attention span is decreasing as our use of technology, social media, and the internet increases. A BBC article I find very interesting debunks that notion, digging into the source of the research that stated our attention spans are shorter than that of goldfish now and finding very little to back it up. The author also talks to Dr. Gemma Briggs, a lecturer in psychology at the Open University in the U.K. She says that the amount of attention we have “will vary depending on what the demand of the task is” and that “how we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation” (Busting the attention span myth, BBC, March 2017). This means that the intention and commitment we bring to a task, such as a virtual meeting where we may not even be seen or heard, greatly influences our attention span and, therefore, the amount of information we gain. While facilitators can focus on providing high-quality information using engaging meeting structures, participants can focus on paying close attention and getting the most out of the information presented. The big question is how to do that. With phones and internet readily available, what can participants do to show their commitment and keep themselves accountable to what’s happening? Below are 4 tips for being an engaged user of any virtual meeting platform, whether one-on-one or in a group.

“How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation.”

Confirm Ahead That You Know Where You’re Going and Arrive a Few Minutes Early

The feeling of scrambling to find the link to the meeting, logging in, any technology issues right when the meeting is starting isn’t fun (I’ve been there!). Check the link ahead of time to make sure you know where you’re going and have any needed programs already downloaded. Log in a few minutes early and send an IM chat to anyone else who’s there or a general hello to the group to see as they arrive. You’ll feel ore connected to the other participants and start with a sense of calm and focus.

Be an Active Participant

You can be an active participant in a whole host of ways. I’ve been attending some free workshops online recently, and the facilitators often ask for input or feedback by asking us to “raise our hands.” When the answer does apply to me, I raise my hand. I could sit back and not push the button, but that would mean both not being an active participant and not providing the facilitator with the feedback he or she needs. When the answer does not apply to me and keeping my hand down is appropriate, I ask questions. This lets the facilitator know what additional information or input I need to move on. Another great way to actively participant is to be the scribe or note-taker. I often volunteer for this job because it keeps me listening closely (I would feel awful if I neglected to record someone’s idea) and helps me process what I’m hearing. Putting your phone in another room when appropriate or turning off your wifi are other ways to tune out the rest of the world and focus on what’s in front of you.

Hear What Isn’t Said Aloud

Meetings involve a lot of talking and, for the participant, a lot of listening. Underneath the conversation, though, is a range of things not said. Cue in to tone of voice, other participants’ questions, background or history of the topic, the heart or why of the topic, and the various levels of impact from the information you’re receiving. Analyzing the information from multiple perspectives and “hearing” how other people feel, as well as monitoring your own reaction, helps develop your analytical and emotional intelligence skills. It also provides more information than just what’s on the surface and gives you an opportunity to reflect; even if the topic is straightforward, your reaction gives you insight to how you best learn and what is important to you.

Follow Through

If the topic requires next steps, make sure you understand your roles and responsibilities and that you follow through with whatever falls in your purview. As a student, you may have research or tasks to complete. As a colleague, you may have resources or programs to design. Many meetings hit a dead-end because they don’t establish what happens next. If next steps haven’t been established, go ahead and ask, even if the answer is that there aren’t any. Next steps are the takeaways of the meeting and keep momentum going. The world outside of meetings is tempting and we all drift now and then. What we bring to the task makes a huge difference and is one we can control. By setting patterns of intention and engagement, we can be productive participants and walk away with much more than we would otherwise. Poignantly, goldfish are actually model research subjects for learning and memory. They’ve been studied for over a hundred years simply because they can form memories and can learn! Since we can do the same, we should be seeking out their attention spans anyway.