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ElementE EduGlossary


This glossary does not give complete professional definitions but does aim to give baffled learners and teaching staff a guide to some of the terms that change their meaning from one location to another and to terms that sometimes appear in English-language marketing or admissions documents.  If you wish to add to the glossary, do please contact us



AFNOR is the Association Française de Normes (  Where AFNOR is cited, the translations and any associated mistakes are those of ElementE Ltd.


This ElementE EduGlossary contributed to the glossaries available in EuroPortic ( and eForminfo.


Two formats

By scrolling down the page you will see most of the glossary in 'flat file' format but, if you want to try the interactive version and have Flash 8.0 or higher installed on your machine, click on the following icon.  The file should open in a new window.

 Links to the Flashfile version of the EduGlossary.   (Eduglossary)




... A ...


These are all abbreviations for “assessment of prior …” experience/skills/learning.  The way in which it is assessed varies from institution to institution and whether or not it ‘counts’ toward a new award will depend partly on the type of programme for which you are applying and partly on how long ago any previous study was completed.  Do not despair: in some instances courses that are twenty years old can be counted towards undergraduate (Bachelor) degrees, especially in the USA.  However, if you want an up-to-date qualification in computing science, a twenty year old course in programming is not likely to be welcomed.


Assessment of experience and skills usually applies to older learners returning to academic study and the experience and skills have to be matched to the syllabus of the degree, including the theories.


Be aware that in most cases there is a charge for the very considerable work involved in the individual assessment of prior experience/learning/skills and it may be more cost-effective to follow the standard course.  If you do want to claim, you will almost certainly have to complete a file or portfolio of evidence and it will be up to you to prove your case – although the admitting institution will provide you with their guidelines.



Abbreviation for "Application Service Provider".  Provision and hosting of a program (not to be confused with the Microsoft programming language).


Action-based learning

A very popular term in the 1990s.  Essentially, learning through doing.


Analogous learning

Transposing a known concept into a new environment.  For example, a teacher might use the example of an office (a place of work) to explain to a student how the computer organises its ‘office’, or compare its disks to a filing cupboard with drawers.



The art and science of developing learning material for adults.  Malcolm Knowles (d.1997) is perhaps the best-known English-language proponent of andragogy.



A collection of activities allowing a person to acquire or improve their theoretical or practical knowledge or to develop skills.  Apprentices in the work-place are usually in paid employment and may be allowed one or more days a week to study at a college or university.



This is not necessarily a ‘test’ in the old pencil-and-paper sense – nor even computer-and-mouse.  Assessments come in many forms: essay examinations, yes/no quizzes, adaptive online psychometric tests, presentations, practicals, in-class observations, simulations, team tasks, dissertations, portfolios, projects and much more.  No matter what form it takes, the student should know at the start of the programme how each course will contribute to the final award and at the start of each course they should know what is going to be assessed and how.


Assessment environment

The defined collection of methods, tools, procedures, principles, routines, actions and activities presented face-to-face and/or at a distance leading to a measuring of skills or learning.



Describes communications that are sent and received at different times (e.g : forum, chat...). cf: Synchronous.


Asynchronous learning

Communication between learners or learners and teachers is carried out in ways that do not require simultaneous connections.  Threaded discussions or emails are examples.



The ability of an individual for self-development without an externally planned course.  An autodidactic learner is the kind of person who decides they want to find out about Peter the Great or how to plumb in the new shower, borrows a book from the library or searches on the internet and just gets on with it.  Autodidacts may also seek information in online special interest groups.


... B ...


This is the English-language translation of LMD and has more context than a simple bachelor-master-doctor hierarchy.


Blended learning

Learning that combines classroom and distance learning, sometimes called mixed-mode learning (face-to-face and distance).


Education that integrates complementary learning contexts in terms of time, place, resources and human- or technology-mediated methods.


Bloom's taxonomy

A widely used system for describing what learners can, or should be able, to do once they have completed some learning.  At its simplest, it differentiates between being able to recite a theory and being able to adapt it for use in different circumstances.  For more information, see Learning design, Resources.


... C ...


Computer-assisted learning including computer-based training (CBT) and computer-aided learning (also abbreviated to CAL): a combination of techniques and methods using IS/IT solutions.


CBT (Computer Based Training)

Learning that uses computers, usually in stand-alone (i.e. not linked to a central resource) mode with the course on a CD-RoM. CBT was one of the first types of computer-assisted learning. Today this has largely been superseded by online training.



The physical location of a university.  In older cities, a single university may be spread over several campuses far apart.



An organised programme of study.  In professional education-speak, ‘courses’ include assessments and lead to qualifications but in everyday English this is not always the case and ‘course’ may just mean a series of class times.  See also, Module.



A real-time exchange of messages between two or more individuals using the Internet. The most well-known program is International Relay Chat.  A Chat contrasts with a Forum, which is asynchronous.


Content expert

Involved in programme design.  Provides the texts, the teaching methods and everything required to develop the teaching resources.  The quality guarantee for the resources.  In some programmes, may also answer course-related but undeveloped or difficult questions from learners.


Content Management System or CMS

The CMS or management system is intended to simplify the creation and management of online content.  It allows more frequent and more cost-effective re-use of material that has already been used online based on two essential premises:


The content is separated from the technology so the authors can concentrate solely on their content.  To do this they use predefined templates for each element of their documents (header, title, placing of images, integration of multimedia elements, etc).  The author integrates their content within this framework.


The unit of content management handled by the CMS is a ‘teaching block’.  The utility of the CMS lies in its  archiving and re-use of these ‘basic blocks’ of learning..

This leads to procedures for publishing learning content in three stages: creation, testing, publication. 
A CMS allows these procedures to be organisation-specific.



Showing where a theory may be applied.  For adult learners, a high degree of contextualisation is often used to make the link between the known world of work and the theories being taught in the university.


... D ...

DL (Distance Learning)

Covers the whole gamut of technological and organisational methods of delivering learning to those geographically remote from the provider institution. In some areas it can be books and letter-post but more frequently it now includes some use of computers.  It needs specialist teaching and learning design skills, plus electronic (or other) forms of communication.



Deductive learning

This progresses from the general to the specific ; it presents a general principle and, uses activities to reinforce this principle and aid in its learning.


Deductive learning has three stages:

  • Observations of facts and data collection

  • Formulation of one or more hypotheses

  • Verification of these hypotheses by experimentation leading to validation of a rule.


Dialectic learning

This contrasts different types of knowledge so that each may be understood more clearly.  In learning, different abstract or philosophical concepts are examined from different points of view.


... E ...


A more sophisticated form of learning than computer-based or web-based training (CBT/WBT).  eLearning includes interactive and multimedia content, distribution systems (PC, Internet, Intranet, Extranet), tools for mentoring and managing online learning and tools for creating interactive online learning. There is a wide range of resources, collaborative and interactive possibilities.


In some countries, elearning is so widespread that the prefix ‘e’ is being dropped: the assumption is that all learning involves some element of ‘e’.


Evaluation of learning

The assessment, according to pre-defined criteria, of the attainment of educational and training objectives.

This can be carried out at different times by different people (student, teacher, employer). There are, for example, student satisfaction surveys, educational attainment assessment, skills assessment, assessment of transfer of learning to the workplace.


Educational assessment

This is to:

  • inform the educators so they can improve the ways in which they deliver the programme

  • give information to the staff so they can adapt the learning for each individual

  • give the learner information about their progress

  • finally certify the achievements of the learner

  • manage the learning system so problems can be rectified.



Also known as assessment.

Formative evaluation

Takes place during the learning programme so the learner can be told as completely and precisely as possible how they are progressing in relation to required goals and what problems need to be addressed.


Formative assessment operates within the programme to provide information enabling timely adaptation of the programme to suit the assessed needs of the individual.


Summative evaluation

Occurs at the end of a period of learning and measures whether or not the learner has achieved the desired learning outcomes.  By providing a score, it also establishes a means of communicating the outcomes to third parties. Summative evaluation is also called awards evaluation – leading to the award of certificates and degrees.

... F ...


This question-and-answer file avoids the necessity for individual responses to frequently asked questions.  It collects the most popular questions on a given subject.  You should consult this before asking questions in a Forum or before calling a member of staff.



Tutor/Teacher and learner(s) meet in a physical environment (e.g. a classroom), not online.  Also written face-face and even face2face.  Often used in traditional or didactic learning (essentially hierarchical) carried out over a pre-determined timescale.



See Mentor.


... G ...

Granularisation of learning

Cuts the content into a number of chunks to allow them to be recombined in a variety of learning pathways according to the level and skill of the learner. Allows individual learning pathways..



The degree to which material is chunked while remaining coherent and compatible with other sections.  Each chunk, or learning granule, can be recombined with others to form a learning pathway.


... H .. I ... 

Individualised learning

A recognition that each learner is unique by providing a learning environment (tools, content, learning methodology, schedule, etc.) adapted to individual levels, needs and learning preferences.


Inductive learning

Progressing from the particular to the general with the student asking questions and making connections between items that are presented until they can derive the linking rule, general principle or theorem. 


Interactive program

A program that requires user-interchange.  Most learning programs require at least the pressing of the 'Next' button but in highly interactive programs the learner's responses and directions will alter the learning pathway to meet their needs.


A private or internal network in an organisation which uses the technologies and protocols of the Internet.  Beware: even very senior managers have been known to confuse the two and wonder why their course is not accessible from a different computer.


... J .. K ...


Collection of theoretical and practical knowing.

Behavioural knowledge (savoir-être )

A term used to define intrapersonal abilities in a given context so behaviours and attitudes in a given situation.  


Applied knowledge (savoir-faire)

Practise of knowledge or skills in a specific context.

... L ...

LMS (Learning management system)

Usually, this computerised system not only delivers content but lets students talk to each other, share files, take tests, contact their tutors.  It will also track individual progress and be linked to administrative systems e.g. for payment.



Some users differentiate between learners and students, with the former often being employed and part-time and the latter being full-time.  By extension, ‘learner’ is often used in marketing literature for people past the traditional ‘student’ age of 18-25.  As lifelong learning and discontinuous learning become more commonplace, ‘learner’ is being used more readily to mean anyone following a formally assessed course.


Learning action

An active (i.e. started) learning process, with a given timeframe, that will allow the learner to achieve the required learning outcomes.


Where an employer is financing the learner, then ‘learning actions’ are the whole programme that is being financed.  These will have pre-determined learning outcomes, defined learning methodologies, a timeframe and both the means to track progress and the means to assess the results.


Learning content

A detailed description of the different subjects treated during the learning programme giving intended learning outcomes and educational methods.


Learning design

The planned integration of the means for learners achieving specified learning outcomes. May include demand analysis, training needs analysis, diagnostics, content specification delivery design, co-ordination and control of the project and evaluation of the learning.


Learning environment

The defined collection of methods, tools, procedures, routines, actions and activities presented face-to-face and/or at a distance leading to learning.


Learning object

This term refers to units of learning developed to meet specific learning needs (e.g. learning Word).  The logic is less that of searching for a solution and more of just-in-time learning where the learner is expected to have some knowledge of the vocabulary, and principles of the program or application.  A Learning Object consists of learning objective, content and assessment – all with associated metadata. It is the metadata that allow content to be adapted to individual learners’ needs.


Learning portal

A website that serves as a ‘front-door’ for a number of different courses from different providers.  Most provide some level of help in finding the course that suits your needs.  See, for example, EuroPortic.


Learning programme

A written description of the content and its relevance to a schedule for progressive attainment of the desired educational objectives.



An important element of didactic teaching, a lecture is delivered by a lecturer/professor to a, usually, large gathering of students.  In some cases, lecture halls hold several thousand people.  Questions during lectures are rarely possible and, in some cultures, are considered very bad manners.  Lectures are useful for making sure all students have the opportunity to hear the same information at the same time.  Seminars and tutorials are often used to complement them.


... M ...


MCQ (Multiple choice question) .  At one end of the spectrum, a collection of MCQs can be a very simple ‘multiple guess’ quiz that can be an amusing way to learn.  At the other end of the spectrum, subject experts, test designers and psychometricians, can build a collection of MCQs into a single, branching test capable of testing a wide range of knowledge, skills and behaviours in great depth.



Mentoring is not teaching. The mentor is also not responsible for the learner’s actions.  Mentoring motivates the learner and lets them adapt their programme of study to suit their own speed and profile.  The learner is responsible for defining their own needs and finding simple solutions within a fixed timespan.  In open or distance learning, mentoring may be subdivided into technical and academic mentoring.  Some universities provide training programmes for mentors.



When submitting a paper, you may be asked for the ‘metadata tags’.  These are simply the keywords that search engines will use to find your work.



A codification of the techniques and tools used to achieve an (educational) objective. In other words, it is a rational explanation of the choice of tools and techniques.  (e.g. ‘I use case studies for this programme because it gives the learners a better ability to transfer their learning to the workplace.’)

Expositional method

The most traditional method of teaching, teaching by demonstration.


Socratic method

As practised by Socrates. Uses cases and examples to provoke questions and lead the learner to answers. The learner may believe they are ‘discovering’ something new and derive satisfaction or pleasure from that, but the master is always in control.

Experimental method

Where the learner is put in a teacher-defined context so that they can learn by doing.


Participatory method

Action-based learning that is centred on the learner as the principal force in their own learning.  It therefore takes account of their individual motivations, needs and achievements.

Mixed mode

Learning programmes using, as one would expect, a mixture of teaching methods – perhaps with the student able to choose online or face-to-face to suit their own needs.  Where the mixture of methods is part of the programme design and each method contributes to a specific learning objective, the term ‘blended learning’ is more frequently used.



The terms ‘module’, ‘course’ and ‘unit’ tend to change meaning depending on which country the user comes from.  In conventional terms, modules are ‘chapters’ in a book but the ‘book’ may be the whole work or part of a series.  In the UK, a module may be split into units and several modules (also called courses) form a degree programme (that, especially in everyday speech, may also be called a ‘course’ as in, “Which course are you going to do at university”.  In the USA, a Module may be a section of a Course and several Courses are needed to complete a Degree program.


For learning designers, a module is a segment that is, or can be, integrated into a course or learning pathway.  It is defined by educational objective, pre-requisites, duration, content, assessment.  In an online context, it can be generated by an aggregation of learning objects.


... N ...

Neuro-linguisitic programming or NLP

An approach to human communication linking words and actions to individual use of the five senses.  Started in the USA but is now more widely used in Europe.  From a student perspective, courses that say they use trained NLP practitioners will be interested in individualised learning.  As with all techniques, there are skilled practitioners and those who claim to use them.  For more information, see Learning Design.  Students: see Courses, Choosing.


... O ...


Open Distance Learning.  A type of Distance Learning (DL) using information communications technologies to adapt programmes to individual needs and modular delivery.  UNESCO defines it as "freedom of access to learning resources made available to the learner without restriction so there is an absence of admissions criteria, the pathway and pace are chosen (as available) by the learner and there is a contract between the learner and the providing institution.  In practice, many institutions do have some form of entry criteria.


Objectives or Learning objectives

The written list of the skills and knowledge that will be taught.  Good wording of objectives will be very precise so any teacher assigned to that class will know what needs to be taught, at what level and how.  Skills programmes are often designed in terms of objectives.


Outcomes or Learning outcomes

These are:

  • Learner-centred - what the student can expect to have achieved, not what the teacher intends to deliver

  • Demonstrable and therefore measurable

  • Achievable using the Course inputs (necessarily including any pre-requisites)

  • Concerned with knowledge, skills and attitudes

  • Guidelines for content, instruction, and evaluation

  • Achieved (not ‘met’) in different measure by different students - because it is the learner who has the outcomes, not the Course.

  • Linked to learning levels – so prior learning and the programme aims are implicit rather than explicit.  This allows the learner to bring their own experience and needs into the classroom and add to the learning experience.

... P ...


The way in which an action is undertaken; the route to a goal.

Learning pathway

The best courses will make sure students do not get lost while allowing them to skip or move swiftly over things they already know and to study in a way that suits their needs and their preferred way of doing things.

Portfolio or ePortfolio

Usually a very large file, either in paper or in electronic format.  A learning portfolio will show only the information that is relevant to your course and will include some means of referencing the 'exhibits' to the 'course requirements'.  Portfolio assessment can be a route to assessment of prior experience/skills/learning and it may also be part (or all) of a course assessment.  For more information, see the Resources sections.



The skills that must already have been acquired for the effective pursuit of another (specified) programme. (AFNOR)  Often referred to in speech as ‘pre-reqs’ (pronounced: pre-reks)


... Q .. R .. S ...


Shareable Content Object Reference Model.  One of the means by which learning designers can ensure material from one online course can be used in another.  Students do not normally need to know if they are buying ‘SCORM compliant’ software and learning designers need far more information than that simple wording.



The learner’s own evaluation of their progress - frequently by completion of a stand-alone questionnaire.


Self-led development

This is a process in which the individual decides their own autonomous learning pathway (pace, content, times of study) without a tutor or structured group.



A session led by a tutor or professor for a small number of students (usually 6-12). Discussions and student participation are expected in much greater measure than is possible in a traditional lecture.



The combination of knowledge and know-how of which a person can demonstrate mastery in a professional, social or academic environment.  Skills required to be allowed to start a learning programme are known as Pre-requisites or “Pre-reqs” or, more formally, as Pre-required skills.


Study session

In France, an organised period of time for learning according to a group’s collective educational objectives. (AFNOR)


In English, a study session is often just a time when the learner chooses to study and records having done so (e.g. in a learning log).



Direct (real-time) exchange of information (e.g. phone, videoconference, VOIP).  Face-to-face classes are synchronous.


Synchronous learning

When learners connect simultaneously to their learning platform. They can communicate in real time over the Web, by video-conference or Chat. Synchronous learning allows the use of shared applications, use of a whiteboard and interactions where the tutor hands over control of these tools.


... T ...

TNA or Training Needs Analysis

A systematic evaluation of the training and education required to fill the gap between an individual or a group’s competences at any given moment and the required competences.  Although the term stipulates ‘training’ it is also widely used to mean educational needs analysis.


Transferable skills

In universities, this usually means transferable from one discipline to another, so something you learn in Medicine can be used in Ancient History (e.g. research skills).  Marketing literature will also refer to ‘transferable skills’, meaning transferable from university to the world of employment.  Most university programmes are required by their accrediting authorities to teach and assess some ‘transferable skills’.  Adult learners sometimes find they have acquired these skills through work or life experience.


Tutor or eTutor

The person who provides encouragement, guidance and subject-specific teaching to you and who ensures you cover all the requirements of your course. 



Scheduled time with your tutor to discuss progress or receive instruction.  In élite universities, tutorials may still be one-one but as pressure grows for university places and available staff, tutorials may be for as many as five people.  The quality of the tutorial is, however, only going to be as good as the quality of the tutor.


... U ...


In some countries (including the UK), use of the word ‘University’ in an institution’s title is regulated by law but in others anyone may set up a ‘university’.  Accreditation of universities is covered under Choosing.



(Uniform Resource Locator or Universal Resource Locator) A unique identifier that allows a resource (a file on the internet) to be found by indicating the access method, the server name and the pathway within the server.


... V ...


An interactive combination of audiovisual, data and telecommunications technologies that allows people to speak and be seen in real time wherever they (and their machine) may be.  Participants may also share files containing text, data, pictures and sound.  Videoconferencing used to be slow and intermittent but the best systems now have almost no delay and crisp pictures.  The slight delays can always be used as thinking time!  People in areas with poor telecommunications infrastructures/low bandwidth will not be able to use the best technologies but may be able to use subsets of them (e.g. the audio but no video).  Push/pull technologies may also help (see Learning Design).


Virtual campus

A virtual campus is any website that is designed to deliver learning resources, communication and collaboration tools to a learning community.  Some of these sites go so far as to use graphics representative of a physical campus with a cafeteria, library, classrooms, etc (see also Virtual university)


Virtual class

A virtual class simulates a face-to-face class.  The course is distributed over a network at set dates and times (synchronous) to groups of geographically dispersed learners.  This environment uses tools to mimic face-to-face classroom interaction.


Virtual university

Very similar to “virtual campus” and frequently used within commercial organisations. This e-learning solution consists of content, management and programme creation tools on an organisation-specific Internet or Intranet server.  The Virtual University is an interface between the employee and the educational offer.  This allows the organisation to offer a wide choice personalised to individual needs.  So, it is a space in which many learners, educators and experts intermingle. (see Virtual Campus)



Voice over internet protocol.  Telephone calls made over the internet.  Some universities use this technical term to avoid naming the technology provider (e.g. Skype).


... W ...

WBT (Web Based Training)

Individual skills training using remotely-hosted (internet or intranet) resources.  WBT usually involves frequent multiple-choice tests and users may need to pass one section before being allowed to progress to another.



A window within a computer program that has both text and graphics programmes for real-time interaction.  Control of the whiteboard can normally be passed from one user to another and printouts can be made.