When personal computers were introduced into the workplace and our
daily lives, we used them to automate processes and simplify
routines. It was natural for training to follow. Trainers began
looking for ways to automate learning, and traditional training
moved onto the computer.
At first it was called "electronic learning," or e-learning for
short, because it was learning via computer. The term e-learning
has evolved to refer to any type of training that requires a
computer. Some people use the hyphenated spelling "e-learning"
while others run it together "eLearning." Both versions are widely
After the introduction of the Internet and web browsers, trainers
took advantage of this new technology. When you accessed training
via the Internet, it was called online learning. This term has also
evolved to refer to any type of training that requires a computer,
whether the Internet is involved or not.
Online learning or e-learning?
Many people consider online learning and e-learning to be the same
thing. Online learning naturally requires a computer and therefore
uses electronic tools. However, you can distinguish between online
learning and e-learning by looking at the learners' interaction.
It's a very subtle yet important distinction.
Some online learning is self-paced, completed individually without
any interaction with others. However, most types of online learning
occur in conjunction with other learners. Learners collaborate with
each other and with a trainer. Online learning is an umbrella term
that refers to all types of interactive training that uses an
On the other hand, e-learning more commonly refers only to
self-paced individual training. Participants taking an e-learning
course log in to a website and complete an assignment on their own.
There is usually no interaction with other learners, or with a
trainer. While the e-learning course uses a website, it is
distinguished by its individual nature. Virtual training requires a
computer with Internet access and has interactivity between the
learners and a trainer. Therefore, "virtual training" and "online
training" can be used interchangeably.
Synchronous versus asynchronous
Synchronous and asynchronous refer to the meeting time of the
training. In a synchronous training event, the participants and
trainer meet together at a set day and time. Synchronous training
events usually use an Internet-based software program specifically
created to host online meetings, events, and training.
A participant in a synchronous training class receives a welcome
announcement such as, "Class begins at 9 a.m. Eastern Time on
Thursday, August 20. See below for location information and
directions for accessing the room."
In asynchronous training, the participants and trainer do not meet
together at the same time. Asynchronous refers to self-paced
learning that occurs over time as the participants' schedules
allow. Common tools used in an online asynchronous training event
include threaded discussion boards, email messages, podcasts, and
wikis. A participant in an asynchronous training class would
receive a welcome announcement that might say this: "Sometime
before Friday, August 14, log on to our class website discussion
board and post an introduction. Your first class assignment will be
due by Thursday, August 20. Send an email to your trainer with any
questions or concerns."
Both synchronous and asynchronous training events usually include
opportunities for collaboration and interaction between
participants. In a synchronous event, the collaboration happens
together in real time, and in asynchronous training the
collaboration occurs intermittently over time. The two main
differences between them are the software tools used to conduct the
training and the timing of the events.
Face-to-face training versus virtual training
When the participants are together with the trainer in the same
room, it's called in-person or face-to-face training (sometimes
abbreviated f2f). When participants are separated by distance and
meet online, it's called virtual training.
Virtual training can be audio-only by conference call. A training
colleague recently told me that one of his clients wanted to do
"virtual training." He assumed they meant an online synchronous
delivery, only to find out they simply meant training via
conference call. However, most virtual training also includes a
visual connection via a shared website or collaboration software
Some might consider videoconferencing to be a type of virtual
training. Participants are separated by distance yet are able to
see one another on a video screen. Videoconferencing systems are
typically located in corporate boardrooms. One distinguishing
factor between videoconferencing and virtual training is the
audiovisual technology required to make a videoconference happen.
In addition, videoconferencing usually has a group of people
gathered around the boardroom screen, while virtual training has
only one person per online connection.
Note: This article is excerpted from
Virtual Training Basics by Cindy Huggett.
Cindy Huggett has taught hundreds of training classes for a variety
of audiences. Her participants have ranged from executives to
frontline employees. She has spent the last 18 years in various
training, consulting, and learning management roles and currently
owns an independent
consulting practice and is also a training performance
consultant with AchieveGlobal;
2010 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.