What do blended learning, e-learning, and other ambiguous terms mean?

What do blended learning, e-learning, and other ambiguous terms mean?


Jane Hart recently conducted an online poll about the meaning of the term, “blended learning.” Only half of the 750 respondents said they think of blended learning as “a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face-and e-learning.” This prompted me to discuss the term e-learning itself, a term that has always seemed ambiguous to me.

What at are your thoughts on using these terms, and others like social learning or experiential learning, to refer to organized efforts by those of us in the training industry? Is it appropriate to continue with this practice? What are the alternatives? We would love to hear what you think.


  1. To me, “a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face-and e-learning” is an example of blended learning. I don’t think it necessarily is a training program, nor for that matter involves e-learning, but rather includes multiple modes of delivery.

    As for “e-learning”, many of our peers argue for its retirement on the basis that electronic technology permeates education and training these days, so it’s all “learning” at the end of the day. While I agree with this in principle, I still find the terminology useful in practice when we need to distinguish it from other forms of learning. Much like we use the terms “higher education” and “training”, there is a time and a place for the language.

    • Ryan, very well put that virtually everything we learn from has some component of “e” learning, but I agree even more strongly there is a time and place for when to use such terminology when all involved understand its meaning, and that’s usually not with executives or with a majority of our audiences.

  2. I think more often than not, we define blended learning from the trainer’s / L&D perspective. From a learner’s perspective, any experience that enables them to a job better will be part of the blend. This could be attending an ILT, e-learning, conversation with peers on the ESN, writing or reading a blog, watching a peer in action, teaching another colleague etc. When you see it from the learners perspective, the meaning of the term – blended learning expands significantly.

  3. An excellent reminder, Sunder. The learner has to come first and we tend to forget that.

    I’m not convinced we will be able to get away from the Gordian knot of labels associated with our field. People want a way to quantify, identify, or categorize, or differentiate it…even though it may not be necessary. Look at the auto industry – we have lots of different words to define the automobile and they vary from location to location (Coupe, Sedan, Saloon Car, Compact, Sub-compact, SUV, Crossover, Station Wagon, Hatchback, Fastback, Sportwagon, Convertible, Cabriolet…) It seems to be human nature.

    So the question might shift more toward how we harness the terminology instead of suppressing it.

    Is that heresy??

  4. In my opinion, the term blended “learning” means the different modalities associated with learning design. From an L&D POV, that would mean using different methods and media to support the learning plan/goal/strategy. This is broken down into classroom, computer based, internet based, video based, self-paced, and experiential – then the modalities are further broken down – workshops, role-plays, simulation, social collaboration etc., and any combination thereof.

    From the end-user POV, this means moving from classroom to online to self-paced. I find that (normal) people associate blended learning with “how” the training/learning is received and that is usually in one of two ways – in the classroom and not in the classroom. So therefore, blended learning, to the end-user is a mixture of receiving their training with this mixture in mind (with a side serving of on-the-job training). Where we get bogged down is forgetting labels are for us. Remember, most people don’t know our terms, and they don’t have to.