Definitions and Related Concepts

The implementation of personalized, competency-based learning is centered on the shared understanding of the outcomes, tools to get there, and related terms. SETDA members reviewed resources that define these concepts from organizations including KnowledgeWorks, Council of Chief State School Officers, Virtual Leadership Learning Alliance, Digital Learning Collaborative, and Aurora Institute, in order to finalize shared definitions and understanding of core concepts.

These definitions may serve as a starting place for the conversation within your school or district as you work to create common language.

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Personalized Learning

Personalized Learning happens when teachers engage students and empower them to learn in a way that fit their needs, abilities, and passions. Educators provide flexible supports, and access to abundant resources in a way that doesn't limit student growth or performance.


Personalized approaches to learning that allow student choice and a pace that is appropriate for their individual development.

Competency-Based Learning

Student advancement is based on mastery of learning objectives, rather than time spent on task. Objectives for learning must be explicit and measureable. Support and feedback must be differentiated and timely. Evidence of mastery should allow student voice in the method of measurement, and demonstrate their ability to transfer and apply new learning.

Tools to get there

Blended Learning

Learning that blends face-to-face classroom instruction with the best aspects of an online course. Digital tools and online resources augment an educator's in-person relationship by allowing greater differentiation, and some flexibility for the learner to decide when and where they learn.

Hybrid Learning

Settings where a portion of the students within the class are in person and a portion are synchronously virtual.

Virtual Learning

Teacher-led education that relies on the internet to connect students and teacher. This may include digital coursework completed asyncronously, as well as synchronous video connections.

Digital Learning

Digital learning is the broadest term for any form of education that employs digital tools and resources, across the spectrum from traditional classroom integration, to fully virtual settings.

In-Person Learning

Face-to-face learning that puts educators and learners in the same physical space, at the same time.

Distance Learning

Learning that happens when educator and students are separated by location. Sometimes synonymous with virtual learning, however, this might also include broadcast courses or paper-based content that does not rely on a digital connection.

Related Terms

Remote Learning

Refers to an emergency-induced situation that requires students and educators to be physically separated, often in their own homes. Instruction may be synchronous or asynchronous. Instruction is often digital, but sometimes relies on correspondence in places where technology or internet connection is unavailable.


Communication or learning events take place for student and educator at the same time. Synchronous learning happens when learners are present in the classroom with an educator, but also when both are enaging with each other and the content online simultaneously.


Communication and learning events happen at various times for learners. Digital tools and resources like online discussion forums, learning management systems, or recorded instruction allow students to access learning and communicate with teacher and peers at a time that is optimal for their schedule.