Written by Damian Bacchoo and Leila Holmyard.

It is well documented that wars and natural disasters can have a dramatic impact on our linguistic landscape. Shock, anger and a search for humour in dark times drive neologisms as people seek to come to terms with their experiences. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic is leading to an explosion of new and repurposed words. From medical terms such as viral load and PPE shifting into the mainstream, to quarantine, social distancing and lockdown being used to describe our daily lives, our language is changing as we settle into a new normal.

In education, the pandemic is adding to a field already awash with buzzwords and acronyms. In this blog we offer a guide to remote learning terminology as teachers and administrators search for ways to describe synchronous and asynchronous interactions, and become more familiar with edtech tools and their challenges, such as zoom-bombing and the digital divide.

There is currently a proliferation in terms used to describe how schools are providing a continuity of learning during closures. At the outset of the pandemic, remote learning was probably the most appropriate name to describe the solution. However, as time has gone on, it is clear that not all remote learning is equal.

Equality of access to learning is something that the OECD is highlighting as a concern – where the learning disparity between the haves and have-nots could widen, by weeks or even potentially years. Remote learning should therefore be viewed on a spectrum based on how a school solution has been able to provide a continuation of learning for students, or not. Some remote learning solutions will be ineffective – others will be better. Perhaps we could express this as an e-Quality gap?

The inconsistent use of terminology is compounded by some terms being confused with long-established instructional design approaches (blended learning, for example). Nevertheless, as a hybrid model of online and in-person education, we may see blended learning used more widely as schools reopen in a phased way.

Some schools are describing their remote learning solution as distance learning – but that is probably not always the case. The same applies to virtual learning campuses (which sits more comfortably as a collective e-tool term rather than a pedagogic approach). Further, technologically-focused terms such as online learning and e-learning obscure the fact that much of the learning, especially for younger children, happens offline.

Removing the Remote from Remote Learning

Many schools have needed to review their response to closures, as their initial approach to remote learning was not built to sustain learning over several weeks. Pastoral, welfare and inclusion issues were often subordinated in the early solutions put forward by schools by some of the more immediate priorities. It has become obvious that sustaining remote learning is challenging and requires a different or adapted instructional approach to be effective.

Feedback from students during school closures is that many are feeling…remote. Whilst many thrive, many are lost. School surveys that we have seen have students stating that they feel isolated, lack motivation and feel anxious about falling behind. A school that wants to create an effective remote-learning pedagogy will need to be prepared to first measure, and then iterate their provision. The irony of all this is that what schools are now trying to do is remove the remote from remote learning.

As teachers, students and parents grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems there is a paradigm shift underway in education. As our AtlasNext colleague Hui Min reflects: “Learning should not have just happened in the classroom anyway…maybe this is the beginning of our transition to Beyond-Classroom Learning or Everywhere Learning.” As pedagogy moves to respond to the changing needs of our students, our language will transform too.


DamianDamian Bacchoo
Damain Bacchoo is the new Director of Education for Oriental Education, currently focused on setting up two new IBCP schools in Switzerland. Damian is the former Head of the Diploma and Career-related Programmes for the International Baccalaureate, and has also been a Head of School in Dubai.
Contact Damian on LinkedIn.


LeilaLeila Holmyard
In her role as Curriculum Director for ManageBac, Leila works closely with the development team to review and extend how we support schools in the design, delivery and assessment of their written curriculum, with a particular focus on the International Baccalaureate. Leila collaborates with our marketing and professional development departments in the production of resources, blog posts and webinars to share with our community.
Contact Leila on LinkedIn or Twitter.