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What is e-learning?

Compiled January 2018. Updated October 2019.

Blended (Hybrid) Classroom Course

  • Online activity is mixed with classroom meetings, replacing a significant percentage, but not all required face-to-face instructional activities.
  • For example, if a course traditionally meets in a classroom three times per week, a blended version might use online sessions to replace one or two of the traditional weekly classroom sessions or to focus face-to-face sessions on laboratory or project work.
  • Some institutions use blended courses with traditional on-campus students to improve efficiency in the use of limited classrooms. For example, replacing 50% of classroom experiences with online experiences would allow an institution to schedule a second course in the same room.

Blended (Hybrid) Online Course 

  • Most course activity is done online, but there are some required face-to-face instructional activities, such as lectures, discussions, labs, or other in-person learning activities.
  • Online delivery replaces all but a few required face-to-face sessions, but these courses are the mirror image of blended classroom courses.
  • Most course activity is conducted online, but a small amount of scheduled in-person classroom or other onsite group activities events are required.
  • While this category of course may commonly be called an “online” course, the distinction is important because the inclusion of face-to-face work sets some geographic limitations on student access to the course.

Mayadas, F., Miller, G., & Sener, J. (2015). Definitions of e-learning courses and programs, version 2.0: Developed for discussion within the online learning community. OLC Insights (Online Learning Consortium).


Face to Face and Web-Facilitated (1-29%)

  • May use web-based technology to enhance what is essentially a traditional course. Uses a learning management system or web pages to post the syllabus and assignments.

Blended / Hybrid (30-79%)

  • Blends online and face-to-face delivery. Substantial proportion of the content is delivered online, typically uses online discussions, and typically has some face-to- face meetings.

Fully Online (80% or more)

  • Most or all of the content is delivered online. Typically has no face-to-face meetings.

Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., & Garrett, R. (2007). Blending in: The extent and promise of blended education in the United States. Needham, MA: Sloan Consortium.


The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) defines distance education as using “one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously.” Technologies may include internet, broadcast distribution across various transmission formats (e.g., cable, satellite, wireless), audio conferencing, and multimedia formats (e.g., DVD, CD-ROM, videocassette). A course may still be considered distance education even if there are requirements to come to campus for orientation, testing, or academic support services.

NOTE: Hybrid courses are not considered by IPEDS as distance education. Therefore, there is no definition to report hybrid enrollments. Students enrolled in“hybrid” courses should be reported as “not enrolled in any distance education courses.” However, enrollments may be reported if students are taking any online course – just not any hybrid course.

National Center for Education Statistics (2019). 2019-20 survey materials: Frequently asked questions. IPEDS 2019-20 Data collection system.


… No standard guidelines exist that delineate how much of the (hybrid course) must be delivered via technology versus in-person to qualify as online or DE (Alammary et al., 2009). Within this vacuum, scholars, states, and institutions have attempted to create such guidelines, examples of which include: 1) the classifying of hybrid/blended courses as low-, medium-, or high-blend based on the extent to which technology- and traditional-instruction is integrated (Alammary et al., 2009), and 2) the creation of internal cutoffs establishing minimum amounts of hybrid/blended education delivered through technology required to be considered online or DE (Sykes & Parsad, 2008).

Some institutions surveyed by IPEDS defined hybrid as:

  • “Hybrid delivery” – up to 50 percent of class sessions are delivered via DE.
  • “Partially at a Distance” – between 50 and 95 percent of class sessions are delivered via DE, and some visits to campus are required.
  • “Distance Delivery” – more than 95 percent of class sessions are delivered via DE, students may be required come to campus for an exam or orientation.
  • Distance-Hybrid: “For formal instruction, the instructor and learner share the same physical space less than 50% of the time (understood in terms of Carnegie credit hour equivalency). Electronic delivery is used for the balance of instruction.”
    • Synchronous: “During electronic interaction, the instructor and learner interact mostly at the same time (e.g. video conference, teleconference, or [e-learning platform] live session).”
    • Asynchronous: “During electronic interaction, the instructor and learner interact mostly at different times (e.g. discussion board or podcast).”
  • Hybrid is 50 to 99 percent online while fully online courses are 100 percent online.
  • At both the large public institution and the community college district, the hybrid definition is left open to interpretation by the individual faculty, while other (institutions) indicated using a 50 percent minimum threshold.

Miller, A., Topper, A. M., & Richardson, S. (2017). Suggestions for improving IPEDS distance education data collection. Washington, DC: National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.


Course that blends online and face-to-face delivery for 30-79 percent of the classroom time. Substantial proportion of the content is delivered online, typically uses online discussions, and typically has a reduced number of face-to-face meetings.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. Oakland, CA: Babson Survey Research Group & Quahog Research Group, LLC.