Great terms for online educators

Performance support

Gives workers the assistance they need to complete a given job task while they’re performing it, rather than asking them to apply what they’ve learned later on. The purpose is to help the person perform a real task in real time, rather than to teach some broader set of skills and knowledge for future use.

Trainingwoman smiling in front of computer

The learners may or may not be working through a real-life job task, but learning (as opposed to completing a particular task) is here the primary intended outcome; participants are expected to enhance their knowledge and skills. Online training comes in two basic forms. In the first, the learner interacts only with an instructional software program; that is, a computer-based training (CBT) program that could be popped into the learner’s computer on a diskette or a CD-ROM is delivered online instead. In the second form, the learner interacts online with other people – an instructor, some classmates or both. If the interaction is synchronous, that means you’re sharing ideas in “real time,” with one person responding as soon as the other contacts him or her; examples include a chat line or videoconferencing over the Internet or a “virtual classroom” that brings instructors and students together in real time on what amounts to a shared, interactive Web page. In asynchronous formats, participants can retrieve messages at their leisure and respond whenever they like; e-mail, online bulletin boards and listservs all operate asynchronously. Some online courses offer both CBT components and human-interaction components. Thus, Web-based training or WBT (i.e., any kind of training delivered via the World Wide Web) may refer to CBT or to person-to-person interaction or both.


Online collaboration occurs, of course, whenever people interact with one another via computer. But the term is used here to describe a particular kind of activity that is different from the person-to-person interaction that occurs in an online training course. In this sense, collaboration refers to people working together online to accomplish a particular job’s task. As with performance support, the primary goal is to complete the task; learning is viewed as a byproduct. As with the interaction in online training, this collaboration may be either synchronous or asynchronous. It can include the kind of troubleshooting situations in which the computer jock at the other end of the phone can see what’s on your computer screen and fix what you’re doing wrong – or working on a “virtual team” with people in different locations around the world.


The hardware and software that allow you to create online-learning materials and deliver them to all those learners out there.

Development tools

The software you use to create online-learning materials. With authoring systems (e.g., Asymetrix’s ToolBook, Allen Communication’s Quest or Macromedia’s Authorware), you can create a computer-based or Internet-based learning module, complete with questions, graphics and test scoring. And you can add materials (like video) created in other software programs. Protocols are sets of standards that define how traffic and communications are handled on computer networks. Their common use ensures that computers, modems, printers and videoconferencing equipment made by different manufacturers can communicate with each other. “T120″ is the standard for dataconferencing; “H.320″ is standard for videoconferencing over ISDN lines; “H.323″ is standard for LANs and intranets; “H.324″ is standard for what computer jocks like to call POTS, or “plain old telephone service”; and “TAPI” is standard for Internet telephony (using the Internet lines to transmit real-time audio). Programming and authoring languages let you build a software program and instruct it to perform specific tasks. Useful ones for online training are Visual Basic, Java, and the ubiquitous HTML (the World Wide Web’s formatting language).

Distribution systemscomputer inside

Hardware and software that let learners see, hear, or otherwise interact with your training materials. Examples of transmission technologies include satellites (which bounce data, images and sound over vast distances, say, from your corporate headquarters in Chicago to your Tokyo branch, using electromagnetic waves); cabling; Internet telephony; whiteboards (twin electronic blackboards that are sort of like visual walkie-talkies: what one person writes on her whiteboard, the other can see on his); video cameras; and “streaming” of audio, video and data (“streamed” meaning broken down so that large digital files can be piped through a computer network without taking too much bandwidth). Networks are the hardware and software that connect one computer to another. Ten years ago, you heard a lot about LANS (local area networks) and WANs (wide area networks). Now the major players are: the Internet, a global system of microwave links and patched-together telephone lines that’s run in a common language (TCP/IP) by a mostly volunteer army of gurus and enthusiasts; the World Wide Web, an Internet application that such point-and-click “browsers” as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer give users access to; intranets, corporate networks that use the same technology as the Internet but put the linked computers, and their sensitive information, behind virtual “firewalls” to repel unauthorized visitors; and extranets, “intranets” that have been expanded to include, say, a company’s key outside vendors and customers.


Video, text, animation, graphics, sound – anything that affects the audio or visual presentation of training material. And there’s plenty of software available to help you create, track and store all these.

User interfaces

The face your computer presents to you when you turn it on. Old DOS-based programs gave you a blinking cursor and the chance to use a lot of arcane commands like “alt-F5″ and “cd\”; the “graphical user interface” (GUI, pronounced “gooey”) of Macintosh and Windows give you icons and a “desktop.”


These roots should look familiar to any trainer – they’re the basis for any good course, whether via online learning or in the traditional classroom.


Doing a needs assessment, determining the learning objectives, assessing the trainees’ capability (which can include what equipment is available to them for online learning).


Determining how learners are responding to the online environment (What do they find accessible? What’s hard to use?), as well as pursuing the classic questions of training evaluation: Did they master the material? Are they using new skills back on the job? If so, is it helping the business?

Learning management

Tracking students’ performance (Who completed which course and when?) and their future needs (Who ought to take which course next?). Depending on the type of online training being offered, you may also need to do some facilities management: Make sure the equipment is up and running on the day of class, everybody’s Internet connection is working and so on.

Project management

Overseeing a training project up to the moment it reaches students: budgeting, generating reports, and performing other administrative functions.

Teaching techniques

Elements that efficiently tailor a course to the kind of skill being taught and to the style and level of the learner. Simulations, games and role-plays are all teaching techniques. So are responding to trainees’ learning styles and anticipating reactions.

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