Online learning involves courses offered by postsecondary institutions that are 100% virtual, excluding massively open online courses (MOOCs). Online learning, or virtual classes offered over the internet, is contrasted with traditional courses taken in a brick-and-mortar school building. It is the newest development in distance education that began in the mid-1990s with the spread of the internet. Learner experience is typically asynchronous, but may also incorporate synchronous elements. The vast majority of institutions utilize a Learning Management System for the administration of online courses. As theories of distance education evolve, digital technologies to support learning and pedagogy continue to transform as well.
Most online learning occurs through a college’s or university’s learning management system (LMS). A LMS is a software application for maintaining, delivering, and tracking educational resources. According to the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) use of a LMS is nearly ubiquitous as 99% of colleges and universities report having one in place. Among faculty, 87% report using a LMS and find them useful for “enhancing teaching (74%) and student learning (71%)” (p. 10). Similarly, 83% of students use an LMS in their courses, with the majority (56%) using them in most or all courses.