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Sometimes reading about online teaching can feel like learning a new language entirely. You will catch on to the lingo quickly, but here’s a glossary of key terms and acronyms from this CDR that are helpful to have on hand.

Adaptive Teaching

This is the term that the Vanderbilt CFT has adopted to describe the sort of flexible course design that will be necessary in the age of Covid-19. In this excerpt from the Adaptive Teaching Resources page, CFT Director Derek Bruff defines adaptive teaching as we use it.
Some instructors will be teaching fully online, while others will be teaching in-person with some students in the classroom while masked and physically distanced and other students participating remotely. Final exams in many schools are planned to be online, and there’s a chance that instructors will have to pivot their courses online even earlier if conditions warrant it.

The fall will require a kind of adaptive teaching, with course designs and lesson plans that can respond to changing teaching contexts and changing student needs.

Read more about adaptive teaching at Vanderbilt on the CFT website.


Asynchronous and synchronous

In online learning, the term asynchronous signals that the course participants will all be doing the same activities but not necessarily at the same time. This allows students the flexibility to complete learning activities and assessments at the time that works best for them. Note that this does not necessarily mean that asynchronous courses are self-paced. Asynchronous activities are typically assigned with a fixed deadline.

Some online courses also contain synchronous learning activities that require the entire class to all be doing the same thing at the same time. The most common type of synchronous online activity is meetings via video conferencing. Other synchronous activities might include online chats, small group work sessions, or proctored exams that take place during a fixed period of time.

In traditional f2f college classrooms, some activities, like the actual time spent in the classroom, are synchronous. Everyone is in the room doing the same activities at the same time. However, many activities are asynchronous. Course readings and homework are generally done by each student at the time that works best for them, as long as they get done by the deadline. In f2f courses, there are always a mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning activities. However, some online courses have no synchronous components at all, and in courses that include both synchronous and synchronous activities, there is quite a bit of variation in the proportion of each. Typically, online courses include a smaller proportion of synchronous learning activities than f2f courses.

Read more about the terms synchronous and asynchronous in this page from TopHat or this post from Ohio University.



The CDR is the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching’s Course Development Resources site—the site on which you are currently reading this glossary! This site grew out of the work of the CFT’s Online Teaching Faculty Community. This group of online teachers at Vanderbilt met monthly in the 2020-2021 academic year with the idea of putting together resources that would help online instructors in the Vanderbilt community. In May of 2020, the CFT launched the Online Course Design Institute, a two week intensive course for faculty, staff, and grad students at Vanderbilt who want to learn about online course design and building. This CDR site includes many of the resources from the OCDI in the format of a public-facing collection of guides to good online teaching.



Shorthand for face-to-face teaching. This refers to traditional classrooms where we are all in the same physical space together for a certain number of contact hours each week. In the last few months, the lines between online, hybrid, and f2f teaching have blurred with the advent of the adaptive, socially distanced classroom. F2f remains a useful shorthand for the concept of physical proximity during learning activities.


Hybrid or Blended Instruction

The terms hybrid and blended have been used by researchers and practitioners to describe courses that include some f2f and some online elements. For some people, hybrid and blended have different implications, but there is little consensus about how the two terms may be different. For many, the two terms are interchangeable and that is reflected in the online teaching literature.

Here is an article with one pre-Covid perspective on the difference between hybrid and blended. While this is a useful definition, keep in mind that not all authors and teachers would necessarily agree with this perspective. This article from US News gives quite a few different types on online course structures in addition to hybrid.

In the current moment of emergency remote teaching, the term hybrid has begun to emerge with a new definition. In recent months, many have used hybrid to refer to the sort of partly asynchronous online, partly synchronous online, and partly f2f teaching that is necessary in socially distanced classrooms where some participants are present in the classroom and some are not. Some people use the term HyFlex to refer to one particular model for this sort of classroom as described in this Inside Higher Ed article. The Vanderbilt CFT is using the term Adaptive Teaching, a term also defined on this page.



This acronym stands for Learning Management System, and it refers to the technology products that are used to house online courses. An LMS typically includes a content area, discussion boards, an assignment submission tool, a quizzing tool, among other features. Some of the well-known LMSes are Brightspace, Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, Google Classroom, among others. Each of these tools have pros and cons, but they are generally very much alike in use and features. You will notice that while this is a widely used term, we rarely use it on the pages of the CDR. That is intentional. What these systems do is manage courses, courses schedules, and learning experiences. To say they manage student learning is a gross overestimation of what technology is actually capable of.

As a rule, we prefer the term course management system rather than LMS as a conscious part of our efforts to emphasize that learning is about pedagogy and people before technology in our online teaching.


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