The Edtech Glossary

Educational technology is continually evolving – an awareness of commonly used terms can help cut through the confusion

Blended Learning

Sometimes referred to as ‘hybrid learning’, blended learning is a popular educational model that combines traditional classroom teaching with online instruction. 

“I think 2016 might see the beginnings of a shift towards blended and online learning in many more contexts as HE becomes more expensive for students,” says David Robertshaw, Academic Lead for Health and Social Care at University of Derby Online Learning.

Properly implemented, blended learning incorporates engaging and personalised online resources for students to
experience at their own pace. Video
content is a valuable tool in the blended classroom as students will already be familiar with shareable, user-generated content from YouTube, Snapchat,
Periscope and Vine. 

“Video can really help with the tough concepts that students struggle with every semester,” says Ryan Eash, Customer Success Manager at TechSmith. “Instructors can record a video explaining the tricky concepts for the students to rewind and replay as many times as they need.” 


It is a rare student who is without a smartphone in their pocket and the enthusiasm for ‘Bring Your Own Device’ shows no sign of waning. Many instructors are harnessing the power of student-owned devices, reporting that the
desktop computer could soon become obsolete as students increasingly
prefer to work with their own equipment.

“The majority of students bring their laptops and smartphones into class,” says Jean Guillemot, operations director at Audencia Nantes School of Management. “Indeed, we have certain classes that can only be run correctly if the students have this sort of technology.”

Guillemot describes how instructors routinely use BYOD to incorporate formative assessment into a seminar or lecture setting, perhaps in the form of a mid-lesson electronic vote. This allows tutors to instantaneously capture students’ level of understanding with accuracy and discretion.

Digital badge  

A digital badge is a web-based micro-credential earned for a skill or achievement. Developed from research related to games-based learning (sometimes referred to as g-learning), a badge is awarded for a completed unit or acquired skill. 

“We have used digital badges significantly within our MOOCs to award micro-credentials,” says Munib Hadi, head of the Academic Innovation Hub at the University of Derby Online Learning. “This has resulted in increased student retention and engagement.”

Designed to encourage lifelong learning and recognise the acquisition of non-formal skills, the success of the digital badge has led to the creation of badged open courses (BOCs), such as those introduced by the Open University in 2015. 

“There is huge interest from a growing number of universities and organisations interested in using badges,” says Fiona Harvey, Education Development Manager from The University of Southampton, where the application of digital badges for co-curricular and academic student contributions is currently being piloted.

“In combination with e-Portfolios, badges provide a great way of demonstrating to employers that students have a managed online profile.”


Flipped Learning

Flipped learning is a form of blended instruction whereby students are assigned materials to study outside the classroom to allow for deeper conceptual engagement within it. A student might, therefore, access a video lecture at home to be discussed in the following morning’s seminar.

“The flipped model is definitely gaining momentum,” says Ryan Eash from educational software provider, TechSmith. “According to a survey from the Center for Digital Education, around half of US professors have flipped one or more lectures. It’s steadily becoming an accepted part of pedagogy.”

Using TechSmith tools, flipped classroom practitioners create high-quality, editable video content that can be linked to class-specific assessment tools. Adopted by institutions including Canterbury Christ Church University, TechSmith software also allows tutors to measure a student’s level of comprehension, participation and interaction.


The Massive Open Online Course is a form of distance learning open to anyone with access to an internet connection. 

These popular courses bring free education to learners who might lack the inclination or resources to enrol on an off-line course. 

Universities often work with established MOOC providers, such as FutureLearn, to offer branded modules and courses. Alternatively, they might establish their own MOOCs, such as University of Derby Online Learning (UDOL).

“MOOCs offer providers a chance to showcase their open education agenda, raise brand awareness, and potentially drive learners onto paid courses,” says Munib Hadi. “Increasingly, learning providers are using MOOCs to try new pedagogies and delivery models.”


An Open Educational Resource is any openly licensed material that is freely available to anyone for the purpose of teaching, learning or research. This could take the form of a digital textbook, recorded lecture, podcast or assessment activity. Academics will often use OERs to showcase research, participate in peer review and bring their university brand to a wider audience. 

OERs can also bring financial benefits by boosting recruitment and lowering course charges. With rising costs of higher education and students seeking to make savings on expensive course materials, some predict that 2016 might become the year of the OER. 


In some ways, the Small Private Online Course (SPOC) draws upon the most effective elements of the MOOC model – online, flexible and structured – while allowing for a more personalised approach. While critics of the MOOC will point to the higher attrition rates and challenges in providing individualised student feedback, a SPOC will target a particular group of learners to allow for greater differentiation, targeted assessment and enhanced tutor support.

Many universities are now combining SPOCs with traditional, on-campus learning to create a blended or flipped approach. Other SPOCs are offered as full courses that can be studied from anywhere in the world. 

At the East Midlands-based National Design Academy, students can study BA (Hons) or MA degree level courses without ever visiting campus. They choose their own course start date, study from a personalised plan and work within a supportive, online community of international learners.


A Virtual Learning Environment is an online space usually organised by subject and level of study. A VLE functions as a repository of centralised course information and resources that can be accessed through an academic login. 

Since most VLEs are now accessible from both desktop and mobile devices, collaborative learning no longer needs to end after a student has left the seminar room. Instead, students can learn through video conferencing, discussion forums or shared documents from wherever they choose. 

“Students love the way they can get messages on their phones using the Canvas VLE,” says Matt Bridge, Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham. 

Designed to promote student ownership and personalisation of the VLE experience, the Canvas system is fully integrated with other web services. This means that a student can choose to access all assignment notifications through Facebook while a classmate might prefer mobile alerts from Google calendar. 

Kenny Nicholl, Canvas Director of Higher Education EMEA, predicts that 2016 will see the greater use of analytics to identify how students are interacting with their VLE. 

“The information can be used to improve course design and quality; ultimately, offering students a better learning experience at university,” he says. “These analytics could also be used to identify students who are struggling in order to intervene before they simply drop out.”

Web 2.0 

Applied to education, Web 2.0 refers to interactive learning experiences that foster collaboration, creativity and discussion. Rather than passively reading from a static web page or online textbook, a student might tweet in response to a thought-provoking question, work collaboratively on a Google doc or create a research-based blog entry. Recognising the academic value of Web 2.0, universities often encourage web-based communities and student interaction with social media. 

“We’re all about social learning!” says David Robertshaw, Academic Lead for Health and Social Care at University of Derby Online Learning. “In fact, our entire model is built around it. We design our courses and modules to include social learning, so we use blogs and wikis centrally in our courses.”


‘Wear Your Own Device’ is a variation on the BYOD trend that includes smart watches, smart eyewear and virtual reality (VR) headsets. While many universities already make use of VR headsets to simulate live vocational training, there has been a recent surge in more affordable consumer products, such as Google Cardboard.

With the second generation Apple Watch and Oculus Rift VR headset both scheduled for release in March 2016, some experts are advising universities to prepare for a greater use of wearables.