An A to Z Guide to Navigating Digital Education

Online learning has become a mainstream method of educating adults. Whether you’re working in the corporate world or higher education, you’ve likely taken a course or watched a webinar using a learning management system (LMS) and aren’t a stranger to digital learning.

Even though many of us have a basic comfort level with online learning, the constantly evolving technology—and terminology—can start to feel overwhelming.

That’s why we’ve compiled this A to Z list of digital learning terms and phrases to help you navigate the world of online education.

#: 508 Compliance

The term 508 compliance refers to Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This addition requires all US federal agencies, programs, and entities receiving federal funds to ensure that people with disabilities have comparable access to electronic and information technology.

That means any public learning institution or organization that receives federal aid must make sure that its information and communications technology (ICT) is accessible to everyone. Some examples of ICT include learning software, online training, mobile devices, and websites. A more extensive list of examples can be found here.

Glossary: A

A: Accessible Learning, Asynchronous Learning, API, and Augmented Reality (AR)

Accessible learning means giving all people the same access to information, educational experiences, and services, regardless of ability or disability. In online learning, it means designing courses that include assistive tools that meet a student’s potential needs, such as closed captioning for someone with a hearing impairment.

Asynchronous learning refers to online education that a person does at their own pace. They aren’t interacting with an instructor or other students in real time. Instead, they’re accessing uploaded materials like webinars, presentations, and PDFs. Asynchronous learners complete assignments and activities at their convenience.

The acronym API stands for “application programming interface.” In the context of eLearning, APIs allow two different software applications to interact and exchange data. APIs can be used to enhance the features available on your LMSby pulling in useful information and functionality from another system.

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience that involves superimposing digital imagery, auditory, or other sensory information on real-world environments. A device like a smartphone projects computer-generated sensory information on a user’s view of the real world (often through the device’s camera feature), which creates a composite image and enhanced experience for the user. A popular example of commercial AR use is the mobile game Pokémon GO.

Glossary: B

B: Blended Learning

Blended learning is an instructional method that integrates digital technology and face-to-face interaction to create a seamless learning experience. This method gives students some flexibility and control over their education, granting them more ownership over the process.

Glossary: C

C: Canned Content, Compliance Training, Content Management Systems, Closed Source, and Cloud-Based

Canned content is material created by a third party that’s purchased and used by others. Organizations often choose canned content to offer their users expertly crafted online training courses while saving time and money by not creating the resources themselves.

Compliance training is the process of teaching an organization’s employees the laws, rules, and regulations that apply to their daily work. This kind of training protects businesses from liability by improving employee awareness of local, state, and federal laws that apply to their industry.

A content management system (CMS) is a software application that lets people build websites and manage website content. Someone without much coding experience can build and manage their website with a CMS.

Closed-source software means the public doesn’t have access to the source code for a particular software. In other words, only the person or organization who created the software is able to change it. Some examples include Zoom, Microsoft Word, and Adobe Creative Suite.

Cloud-based refers to services, apps, or resources that are available to users on-demand via the Internet. Commonly used sub-categories of cloud computing solutions include software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS).

Glossary: D

Differentiated and Directed Learning, Digital Learning Objects, and Digital Library

The term differentiated learning means providing a varied range of different avenues for instruction that cater to the needs of different ability groups and learning styles within a single community of learners. The instructor may deliver the learning materials in different forms and via distinct tasks to individual groups of learners. This ensures all students are being adequately challenged without making the content too rigorous.

Directed learning refers to learning activities and evaluations that are initiated by an instructor and completed by a student. They are traditionally found in a course syllabus in the LMS and mimic in-person classroom learning.

Digital learning objects (sometimes called DLOs or simply “learning objects”) are digital resources that can be reused to support learning. Examples include webinars, presentations, and interactive tutorials.

A digital library uses technology to store resources electronically. They can store articles, books, and other relevant reference sources for organizations or learning institutions.

Glossary: E

E: eLearning and Embedded Reports

eLearning is short for “electronic learning.” It’s the acquisition of knowledge through electronic technologies. In other words, eLearning happens when people use computers or mobile devices to learn.

Embedded reports are essentially data sets inside of data sets. An example of this would be a report that lists students enrolled in a course containing another report for each learner. The report within a report grants quick access to information about the individual’s learning journey data without you needing to leave the course roster.

Glossary: F

F: Face-to-Face (F2F) and Flipped Classrooms

The term face-to-face learning (sometimes styled as F2F) means that students and instructors are together in a physical classroom or another learning environment.

A flipped classroom takes the traditional lecture or seminar and turns it on its head. Students are given access to learning materials prior to meeting for a course. Students then spend classroom time collaborating with each other and doing activities that promote higher-order thinking processes, such as analysis and evaluation of a concept. The instructor takes on the role of a facilitator instead of a lecturer.

Glossary: G

G: Gamification and GDPR

Gamification is a learning technique meant to engage students and increase their knowledge acquisition. "Gamified" learning incorporates elements of game playing, such as point scoring, awards, and leaderboards to promote competitive study, social connection, and a sense of measurable progress. This type of learning typically increases engagement with and retention of the material.

The acronym GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. This is a data privacy regulation that applies to all member nations of the European Union. This regulation aims to give citizens more control over their personal data while also protecting individuals’ privacy. If any of your learners reside in the European Union, your online learning program must comply with GDPR when storing and handling learner data.

Glossary: H

H: H5P and Hybrid Learning

H5P is an abbreviation for HTML5 Package. This open-source content collaboration framework integrates with learning management systems, so users can create, share, and reuse interactive content.

Like blended learning, hybrid learning involves the mixture of both in-person and digital education. With hybrid learning, instructors teach students online and in-person at the same time using tools like video conferencing. Remote students will generally remain remote and complete all activities online, while in-person students will attend class with the instructor face-to-face.

Glossary: I

I: Instructor-Directed Courses and Instructor-Led Training

Instructor-directed courses and instructor-led training are two terms for the same concept. They refer to the idea that learning happens at the direction of an instructor who assigns activities and sets the pace for the students.

Instructor-led training is the preferred term in corporate training environments. In secondary and postsecondary education, it’s referred to as instructor-directed courses.

Glossary: K

K: Kirkpatrick Model

The Kirkpatrick Model is a globally recognized framework for evaluating the effectiveness of courses and training programs. Developed by Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick in the 1950s, it is meant to help L&D professionals assess their learning programs by measuring:

  • Learners’ reactions to training content
  • The degree to which learners ascertain information during a training course
  • Learners’ behavior after a training course
  • The impact of a training course on the organization’s targeted outcomes

It was modified in 2010 and is still used by organizations across many sectors today.

Glossary: L

L: Learning (and Everything That Goes With It)

A glossary about digital education wouldn’t be complete without an extensive entry for the terms associated with learning. On its own, learning is the acquisition of new knowledge. Below are eight additional learning terms that have developed with the advent of digital technology.

Learner-Centered Education

Learner-centered education is the idea that the most important aspect of learning is the student themselves. The focus is primarily on the knowledge and abilities the student acquires as a result of a course, as well as how competently the student can perform the desired outcomes. A key component to this instructional model is that Digital education that is customizable to each participant could be considered learner-centered.

Learning Analytics

Learning analytics refers to the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about learners and their progress through learning programs. Institutions and organizations use this data to understand how their users learn. They also use the data to optimize learning environments to achieve better educational outcomes.

Learning Ecosystem

The term learning ecosystem refers to the holistic understanding of the platforms, processes, and the people that deliver learning and development in an organization or institution. As with ecosystems in the natural world, the interactions between each individual element of the learning ecosystem is significant. When building a learning ecosystem, it's important to consider how each individual element may combine to provide the best learning experience.

Learning Experience (LX) Design

Learning experience design (or simply LX design) is a field that focuses on the individual instructional moments learners encounter during a course. The learner is the primary focus, and their experience as they navigate a course is the top priority for these designers.

LX designers aim to create an experience that reinforces instruction, provides opportunities for synthesis and analysis that lead to greater internalization, and evaluates how learners are using that lesson as part of a holistic educational process.

Learning Experience Platform

A learning experience platform (LXP) is a user-centric software platform for housing both formal and informal learning materials. These materials can come in the form of articles, podcasts, videos, and more. Materials are created by educators and corporate L&D teams, learners, or external providers. An LXP provides users with a single access point for self-paced, self-directed learning.

Learning Management System

A learning management system (LMS) is a software application with which organizations and institutions manage, host, and track learning programs. An LMS gives schools and businesses full control over the content being provided to users. They can deliver both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences to users as well as automate assessment tasks, which saves time for instructors.

LMS Vendor

An LMS vendor is the organization that configures your learning management system, while providing operational support. Some LMS vendors provide additional services, such as content creation, exam proctoring, or LMS training courses that teach your team how to operate your new learning platform.

Learning Record Store

A learning record store serves as the repository of all learner records across all the modules they have been involved in. It's an essential tool for complex platforms that integrate multiple learning systems in order to reach different goals for different users.

A learning record store also helps platform managers monitor which learning systems an individual has accessed. Platform managers can also see which courses were completed and how quickly the learner progressed through the learning materials.

Learning Tools Interoperability

Learning tools interoperability is a standard created by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. It pertains to the ability of your LMS to connect to outside resources and use them seamlessly, setting up a standardized method of integrating those resources into various platforms and making accessibility across institutions easier.

Glossary: M

M: Machine Learning, Microlearning, and Multi-tenancy

Machine learning refers to the ability of a system to gather and use information without being directed by explicit programming. Through machine learning, AI systems can adapt and change based on responses from earlier inputs. An example of machine learning is a search algorithm that ranks web pages more highly based on the number of previous searchers that chose those websites first.

Microlearning is a learning method that boils tasks and skills down to core components, teaching them in very small lessons or activities. The process reinforces skills with repetition in small pieces interspersed with other tasks, regularly assessing student skill and knowledge retention to determine mastery. Its proponents maintain that it allows for a more flexible learning environment with a variable pace that’s accessible to every student.

The phrase multi-tenancy refers to an LMS that allows for separate environments for each division or department in a company to customize their learning and development activities according to in-role best practices. The concept originated in web-based CMS systems that allowed for the administration of several websites from a single multi-node systemic framework.

Glossary: O

O: Off-the-shelf Content, Open Source, and OSHA Training

The term off-the-shelf content refers to content that is sold in a ready-to-use format with no personalization or customization. In eLearning, the term typically describes pre-built modules that can be added to a course. It can also refer to entire pre-built courses.

Open source relates to the practice of sharing software code and authorizing others to use it in their own projects as needed. The term can be used to refer to entire programs developed collaboratively and in a manner that allows other developers to change them. It can also refer to the pure underlying code. Open-source platforms are very popular because they can be tailored to suit the needs of companies and educational institutions.

OSHA training refers to the mandatory compliance training required in each industry in the United States according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). An organization’s L&D team must create training courses that comply with OSHA’s regulations. Training must be relevant to a particular position and must be contextualized to the specific work done by a department. There are other requirements regarding cross-training and safety protocols.

Mandatory compliance training exists all over the world. Click the links below for more information on specific areas:

Glossary: P

P: Personas, Performance Monitoring, Personalized Learning Plan, Proctoring, and Professional Development

In learning design, personas are fictional profiles describing relevant attributes of potential target learners. Strong personas are based on real user data and behaviors. The personas can help designers create learning experiences that are relevant and easy to use and understand.

Performance monitoring is the process by which individual members, teams, and departments are tracked as they progress toward goals. As learners progress through training courses, instructors and administrators use monitoring to track which members of the organization may need extra help or feedback to progress toward the course goals within the stated parameters.

Personalized learning plans are flexible educational models that allow learner-determined goals to guide the content and difficulty of material. This teaching style is gaining popularity in both physical and digital learning environments.

Proctoring (also known as eProctoring or online proctoring) refers to software that monitors students while they take exams and other high-stakes assessments. Test-takers can be observed via their device’s camera. Their online activity is also tracked, and administrators are notified if an examinee attempts to visit other web pages during the assessment. Some proctoring software prevents students from leaving the testing window altogether during an active assessment. Online proctoring is meant to improve the academic integrity of digital exams.

Professional development (sometimes simply called PD) refers to any continuing training, education, or mentorship designed to deepen an individual's skills within a field and improve their command of relevant knowledge. It can refer to continuing education programs that lead to credentialing necessary to advance, and/or certification in specific skill sets like process management. It can also refer to general training and enrichment designed to help keep skills polished while introducing changes to institutional best practices.

Glossary: S

S: SCORM, Self-Directed Learning, Self-Hosted, Self-Paced Learning, Single Sign-On, and Social Learning

The acronym SCORM stands for the shared content object reference model. It refers to a set of tools developed by the United States Department of Defense-funded Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative. The SCORM standard has been adopted across many industries and niches, including education. The model produces easily referenced data on course progress in the form of point scores and percentages earned, providing both learners and instructors with a fast reference point for learner progress through a linear course design model.

SCORM is among the most relied-upon data standards in education, although alternatives that update and expand upon it have since overtaken its features and ease of use.

Self-directed learning describes a learning style that relies on an individual student’s queries to guide the process of discovering relevant information. It has a less formal structure than many other styles, but with interaction and collaborative learning, it creates a flexible style suited to many asynchronous courses.

Self-hosted learning means your LMS is hosted on your organization’s servers instead of by a third party provider on the cloud. Self-hosted eLearning is typically managed in-house, and updates need to be done manually. Only users who can access the server are able to access the LMS content.

Self-paced learning, on the other hand, allows the learner to control how much material they work through in each session, how long they need to master the material, and sometimes even the order of the learning goals for the particular unit. For students to be successful, the learning environment must be organized by a facilitator prior to learners engaging with the materials.

Single sign-on (sometimes called SSO) is a login configuration that provides users with a set of related but separate sites and services with a single username and password verification. It’s popular with educational CMS systems, social media platforms, and even many device manufacturers.

Social learning emphasizes interaction and discussion in a structured environment to foster greater knowledge retention. Proponents of this learning style claim the engagement created in this format is also greater than in traditional classroom learning formats. The environments are often collaborative, but not always.

Glossary: T

T: Talent Management System (TMS)

A talent management system (TMS) is an electronic environment with multiple participants in multiple roles. In this case, the system is used to manage not only training and development, but also compensation and benefits, recruitment, and often performance assessment. The tool is useful for HR departments because it facilitates their record-keeping along several axes, making it easy to cross-reference an employee's professional development, workplace evaluations, and history of promotions and compensation adjustments.

Glossary: U

U: User Acceptance Testing and User Tours

User acceptance testing (UAT) is the final phase of the software implementation testing process. UAT only occurs after the deployment team has completed all necessary updates and debugging operations.

In this phase, sample user groups are brought into testing to provide input about their experience with the learning management system. This process can be used for both new features and new programs.

A guided user tour lets learning designers demonstrate how the platform operates in an interactive way, allowing users to orient themselves at their own pace. No matter how straightforward an LMS may appear, no design is guaranteed to be intuitive for every single user.

Glossary: V

V: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and Virtual Reality (VR)

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is an online platform used for educational purposes. Examples of VLEs include online courses like eLearning, reading resources and informational sites with stand-alone skill assessments, or other forms of virtual learning.

Virtual reality (VR) fully immerses users in audiovisual experiences they participate in from a first-person viewpoint via the use of a VR headset. These experiences are meant to help learners synthesize and internalize more information.

Glossary: W

W: Webinar and Wearables

A webinar is an online workshop designed for training or professional development. Participants interact in real-time, typically viewing a demonstration with the opportunity to ask questions and probe points of interest. It is highly effective as a tool for simple training and can be coupled with asynchronous learning to create a more varied course experience.

Wearables refer to devices that can be worn and interacted with to provide data to a computer system. Using wearable devices like response buttons or smartwatches allows students to interact with a lesson in a way that can be recorded in a learning management system, adding offline experience and training to the available data used by the system when evaluating performance.

Glossary: X


The term xAPI (also known as the Experience API) refers to an eLearning specification that collects data regarding a wide range of experiences a particular user encounters. The data collected encompasses a user’s online and offline learning experiences.

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Rebecca Potter
About the author

Rebecca Potter

Rebecca is a content writer for Learning Technologies Group plc. Prior to writing, she was an educator for seven years. She earned her Master’s of Education from Bowling Green State University and holds degrees in English and Spanish from The Ohio State University.

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