Posted by: Gregory Linton | 06/03/2021

Definitions of Learning Modalities

The October 26, 2020, issue of EDUCAUSE Review included an article by Valerie Irvine titled “The Landscape of Merging Modalities.” She defines modality as referring to the location and timing of interactions between an instructor and the students. The growth of online learning has proliferated the terms used to describe these modalities. She attempts to untangle these terms that sometimes overlap or repeat one another. The table below is my attempt to summarize the terms and their definitions.

ModalityOriginMeaning
Online learningMid-1990sOriginally referred to text-based, asynchronous learning
Lack of high-speed internet limited communication primarily to text.
Asynchronous learningMid-1990sCommunication that is time-delayed through tools such as email, static websites, and forums
Blended learningNorth AmericaMix of on-campus/face-to-face learning and online activities
Instructional hours are reduced to allow for online interactions or online interactions are supplemental to the face-to-face experience.
Hybrid learningAustralia and elsewhereSynonymous with “blended learning”
Originally referred to “consecutive” modality mixing where learners participated in both face-to-face and online components
More recently, it has been used for “concurrent” modality mixing where both on-campus and online learners interact synchronously
Synchronous learningLate 1990sMade possible by increases of residential internet speed and emergence of web-based softwareInteractions happened live via a phone call
Blended online learning2000sIntegration of synchronous learning into online-only, asynchronous courses
Flipped Learning2000Term was coined by J. Wesley Barker and expanded by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams
Describes a pedagogical approach more than a modality
Content is learned before class through recordings or other resources, and face-to-face time is used for discussion or practice.
Originally designed with face-to-face courses in mind but can also be applied to online courses where online synchronous time is used for discussing the material learned asynchronously
Videoconference roomsEarly 2000sFace-to-face groups were connected together via video over the internet.
Individuals did not have this capability on their home computers.
Video-enabled classroomsMid-2000sNew software enabled personal laptops or desktops to connect directly to room-based videoconferencing systems.
This enabled merging modes for learning and including groups on campus, remote groups, and dispersed remote individuals.
HyFlex ModelLate 2000sDeveloped by Brian Beatty at San Francisco State University
Combination of hybrid and flexible where students may choose whether or not to attend face-to-face sessions
A course is offered in modalities of face-to-face, online synchronous, and online asynchronous, and students choose which modality they will follow.
Multi-Access learningLate 2000sDeveloped by Valerie Irvine
Includes a combination of face-to-face, synchronous online, asynchronous online, and open access but not necessarily all of them
Blended Synchronous2013Developed by an Australian team of professors
Remote students participate in face-to-face classes by means of media-rich synchronous technologies such as video conferencing, web conferencing, or virtual worlds
Synchronous Hybrid2014Developed by University of Michigan professors who termed it “Synchromodal”
Classes where online and face-to-face students interact during shared synchronous sessions
Remote Teaching2020Emerged during the COVID-19 shutdown to avoid negative perceptions of online learning caused by hastily prepared practices developed by instructors lacking knowledge and experience in trying to meet learners’ needs online
Intended to prevent generalizing criticisms of emergency remote teaching practices to online learning as a whole

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