Online Learning: Let’s create a common language

One of the challenges with online learning (e-learning in non-educational markets) is a lack of common language and terminology. In particular, our use and understanding of virtual delivery—sometimes called Zoom class, remote learning, and synchronous learning, to name just a few—has expanded, and so has our vocabulary. A lack of agreement around terminology can make it difficult to communicate about best practices and new developments in the field.

To establish a common language about online learning delivery modes, the major players in online learning surveyed over 2000 faculty and administrators to assess the commonality of definitions of modality terms (Johnson et al., 2022). The results indicate that the following terms are most consistent:

  • In-person learning: (face-to-face) All instruction takes place in an in-person setting. 92% agree in the U.S. and 88% in Canada.
  • Online learning: All instruction and interaction are fully online (synchronous or asynchronous). 91% agree in the U.S. and 90% in Canada.
  • Hybrid learning: A blend of online and in-person instruction (online component is synchronous or asynchronous). 95% agree in the U.S. and 96% in Canada.
  • Hyflex learning: Students can move between online and in-person instruction as they see fit (also referred to as multi-access or co-modal learning). 71% agree in the U.S. and 91% in Canada.
  • Synchronous learning: Instruction takes place in real-time and requires student presence (in-person or virtual) at a set time. 96% agree in the U.S. and 99% in Canada.
  • Asynchronous learning: Instruction is available for students to access at a time that works best for them. 97% agree in the U.S. and 98% in Canada.

One additional term not on the above list is Bichronous learning. This delivery mode involves blending asynchronous and synchronous delivery. Students participate in the asynchronous aspects of the course at their convenience and attend scheduled synchronous sessions.


Johnson, N., Seaman, J., & Poulin, R. (2022). Defining Different Modes of Learning: Resolving Confusion and Contention Through Consensus. Online Learning, 26(3).

Questions for Discussion

  1. What terms related to e-learning and online learning are used in your organization?
  2. Are there additional delivery modes that we should add to the above list?


  • I work in an industry setting and, unfortunately, not a single one of these terms is used. Our online learning is always referred to as the system that it is completed in and all training that is done in person is just referred to as “meeting in the conference room”.

  • Bernadette McGinester

    I enjoyed reading this article because I learned of 2 different learning styles that I never heard of, Bichronous Learning and Hyflex Learning. My current job has used hybrid learning and Synchronous learning. I am hoping to introduce the other options for learning now that I have learned of them.

  • This an interesting article for a few reasons: I as well have not heard of Bichronous learning. I assumed this was just a part of online learning. Our organization calls these virtual classroom training, and they are usually preceded by a period of asynchronous learning and then repeated a few times during “home study.” They are effective as they answer learners’ questions and simultaneously allow students to experience a cultural cohort. We follow this now with a live synchronous session. We began this after the pandemic and now call it our Hybrid class structure. The other interesting part of this article is the vernacular is sometimes challenging for our stakeholders to understand, and having a concise translation of the terms is helpful. Thank you!

  • From my background and area, our term for Hybrid learning was the definition for Bichronous Learning. I actually have never heard of the term Bichronous Learning and Hyflex learning. We used the terms; In-Person Learning, Online Learning, Hybrid Learning, Synch & Asynch learning. Is this just me? Have you all heard of all of the terms?
    I tried to think of additional deliver modes thats we can add to the list but could not think of any at the moment! I think our list sums it up pretty well.

    • I, too, just learned these terms after doing research into new ways to deliver learning post-pandemic. I think they are more specific than hybrid and address the use of a synchronous virtual component rather than FTF. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and great question!

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