Educational Technology

20 Essential Technology Terms for Teachers


Adam Heckler is a twenty-something Cincinnati, Ohio local working in the education technology sector. Most of his time is spent at VARtek Services where he writes for the blog, manages social media, and advises K12 s

I know that most readers at Fractus are probably pretty tech-savvy, but still, some may not quite be to that level yet. The worst part about it is that the technology world moves so fast and changes so rapidly that the jargon and slang is extremely hard to keep up with, even for people who try to pay close attention.

So today I thought I’d bring you a mini-encyclopedia or mini-dictionary of sorts, where I’ll lay out some of the more confusing technology terms that educators will encounter on a regular basis. I’ll do my best to explain them as well, so you can at least sound knowledgeable if you are, say, stuck in a conversation with someone who knows a lot about technology. Here we go!


  1. One-to-One

Read as “one to one.” This simply means a school district or other environment (such as a lab) that has one computer or other device for every student, thus making the device-to-person ratio 1:1. Many schools in the K-12 arena are currently attempting to better integrate technology into their curriculum by “going 1:1.”

  1. Adaptive Learning

This is an educational practice which uses computers as interactive instructional devices. The programs adapt the difficulty and/or style of educational material according to the particular needs of each student (determined by their responses to questions and tasks in the program).

For example, a math application that detects when some students are having trouble with division and then has those students spend more time reviewing it would be considered adaptive.

  1. Asynchronous Learning

A traditional classroom is an example of “synchronous learning,” where all students learn the same things at the same time and in the same place. Asynchronous learning is the opposite of that. Using the power of the Internet, students can now learn different things whenever they want and wherever they want, hence the term “asynchronous.”

  1. AUP

Short for “Acceptable Use Policy.” The AUP is a document most likely produced by the school’s Board of Education. It specifies what a district’s staff and students may or may not do on the school’s network. Students (and often their parents as well) are usually required to sign one of these at the start of every school year.

  1. Blended Learning

Blended learning is exactly what it sounds like: a teaching method that combines traditional classroom instruction with online or mobile learning activities.

  1. Cloud

“The cloud” is not one single device or location. Rather, it is a metaphor for on-demand storage space or computing power managed by a third party. Dropbox’s syncing application is a good example of a “cloud” service, since your files are copied up to their servers and then back down to all of your devices with Dropbox installed. Server

  1. CMS

CMS stands for Content Management System. CMS’s are essentially software or web applications that allow you to publish and edit content from one central interface. They also usually allow for collaborative editing, standalone pages, and other features. WordPress, the open-source blogging software, is a popular CMS.

  1. Differentiated Learning

Differentiated learning is a teaching method that adjusts the presentation of the instructional material to better suite each individual student. While the learning goals are the same for all, some students learn differently than others, and so differentiated learning seeks to meet each student halfway, as it were, rather that force all the students to learn via the same method.

  1. Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship means making good use of the Internet and having knowledge of how to operate web-connected devices safely while online. It also means that you can effectively use technology to interact responsibly with others to engage in society, politics, or other public discussion. Raised Hands

  1. Digital Divide

The term digital divide is used to refer to a large gap in technology use between two groups. The two groups can be divided along economic, racial, age, or even gender lines. For example, Americans 55 and older report using the Internet the least out of all age groups, while those 18-24 report using the Internet the most

. This could be said to be a “digital divide.” In education specifically, the “digital divide” most often refers to a divide in technology use along economic lines.

  1. Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate, and create information using a range of digital technologies. For example, you know your Aunt Sue who always forwards you those emails because she thinks she’d be cursed otherwise? She wouldn’t exactly be digitally literate.

On the other hand, someone who knows not to trust everything they read online or who knows how to edit an article on Wikipedia might be called digitally literate.

  1. Flipped Classroom

A “flipped classroom” is one in which teachers do not simply lecture to students for the entire class period. Rather, teachers work with students to solve problem sets or otherwise directly interact with the students. What would traditionally be a face-to-face lecture is then (at least in many cases) recorded and posted online for the students to watch as “homework.” Thus the traditional-lecture-at-school-and-do-problems-at-home model is inverted, or “flipped.”


  1. GAFE

This acronym stands for “Google Apps for Education,” a popular Internet-based suite of applications designed specifically for schools. It features email, document creation and collaboration, and many other tools that districts find useful.

  1. Gamification

Gamification, while it may be somewhat of a mouthful, is actually a pretty simple concept: it’s the making of boring, everyday, or ordinary activities into a game-like activity. iCivics is a perfect example of gamification; they’ve taken something many students would bristle at (learning about the federal budget) and made it into a fun and educational game.

  1. LMS

LMS is short for Learning Management System. An LMS is a piece of software that is capable administering, documenting, and tracking classroom activities. Teachers and staff often use LMS’s to make their work more efficient, as well as to increase student engagement. Schoology is one example of an LMS.

  1. M-Learning

Short for “mobile learning”, m-learning simply means any learning activity that takes place on a mobile device.The word “mobile” is also relative; it could mean a laptop, a tablet, or something even smaller and more mobile, like a cellphone.

  1. MOOC

MOOC stands for “Massively open online course.” These are becoming more and more popular lately as several Ivy League universities have started offering some of their coursework online. Coursera and Udacity are two of the biggest MOOC websites.

  1. Podcast

A podcast is similar to a radio show: they’re audio-only “shows” distributed not via radio waves, but via the Internet. There are podcasts on an unlimited number of topics, and many are educational and appropriate for students. Check out our favorites in these two posts.


  1. QR Code

Have you ever seen one of those weird square boxes that looks like it’s full of static?

That’s a QR code! It’s sort of like a barcode, and it can hold almost any text, links, or information you want. Scan ours with an app on your phone and see what happens! You can generate your own here.

  1. Wiki

A wiki is a website that allows anyone to add, modify, or delete information from it. Wikipedia is one of these, hence it’s name. Wikis are often used to develop encyclopedia-like knowledge bases on particular topics, like math or even video games. Many schools use wikis for internal projects and student websites.


So that is twenty of the most common and high impact terms relating to applicable and innovative education technology. But, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Drop us a comment below and add the terms you hear creating confusion in the classroom.


How is educational technology defined?

Historically, there have been numerous definitions and statements concerning the nature and function of educational technology, according to Saettler (2004).  Educational technology has been a term including both instructional technologies, which focus on the teacher and the pedagogies they might employ, and learning technologies, which focus on the learner.  Its meaning has been “intertwined with certain historical conceptions and practices or bound to specific philosophical and psychological theory as well as with particular scientific orientations” and clouded by “the tendency in some quarters to equate new information technology with a technology of instruction” (Saettler, 2004, p. 5).  In the 20th century, four paradigm shifts, each with different philosophical and theoretical orientations, affected theory and practice and definitions of educational technology.  Saettler characterized those as “(1) the physical science or media view; (2) the communications and systems concept; (3) the behavioral science-based view . . .; and (4) the cognitive science perspective”

Definitions, and resulting mindset of the educational technologist, have been influenced by the nature of technology of the time and what could be done with it.  In the early and mid-20th century, the focus was on using tools associated with instructional technologies from blackboards to overhead projectors, B. F. Skinner’s learning machines, films and movies, and mainframe computers. However, the advent of computer terminals, personal computers, the Internet, and the growth of broadband communications in the late 20th century enabled mindset shifts toward learning technologies, as those advances enabled greater interactivity and increased possibilities for collaboration among learners.

Thus in the 21st century, we see definitions reflecting a new mindset leaning toward learning technologies and on how instructional technologies can best serve learning. For example, the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) defined educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources”

How is technology affecting the learning process?


Technology is affecting the learning process in at least seven ways, each of which is elaborated upon in what follows:

  • It affects the nature of learning;
  • It is empowering students;
  • It has probable effects on cognition;
  • It has given rise of informal learning and new learning theory (e.g., connectivism);
  • It has led to personalization as a trend in life-long learning;
  • It has led to new and emerging technologies for teaching and learning;
  • It has led to new and enhanced processes in math education.

Nature of Learning

Technology is changing the nature of learning.  As noted in the National Education Technology Plan 2010 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010), there are “three connected types of human learning—factual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and motivational engagement …  supported by three different brain systems. … Social sciences reveal that human expertise integrates all three types of learning. Technology has increased our ability to both study and enhance all three types of learning”

One does not have to look far to see the affect and influence of the rise of broadband Internet connectivity, the increase in social networking, and greater use of mobile devices on learning.  These have enabled those who possess technology to quickly capture knowledge and information, easily communicate, get feedback from, and collaborate with peers.  Technology becomes another vehicle for creativity, self-expression, and self-production and publication.

Unlike using a paper-based book with a finite number of pages, technology makes the user aware that acquisition of knowledge is potentially limitless.  Knowledge is constantly evolving with the end result that complete mastery of any topic is not truly possible.  Not all information is complete, there are multiple points of view and opinions on a topic that can easily be accessed.  Not all of those perspectives are from authoritative, peer-reviewed sources.  The ease of anyone publishing anything leads to a need for constant questioning of what one reads.  The result is that schools must take a greater role in helping learners to critically evaluate online content.

Empowering Students

Technology is empowering students in four key ways, according to Lemke and Coughlin (2009): democratization of knowledge, participatory learning, authentic learning and multimodal learning.  Democratization is brought about because the “Internet has become a treasure trove for content related to the academic curriculum, providing learners with free access to thousands of valuable courses, information sources, and experts”.  “The advent of low-cost global communications has led to mass collaboration in the social, economic, and political sectors” (p. 56) and has found its way into classrooms.  Teachers and students can use tools such as blogs and wikis for participatory and authentic learning in the context of those global issues. Sophisticated media combining text and visuals is supporting multimodal learning, but at the same time is posing challenges for educators in terms of helping learners to interpret and understand multimedia messages (Lemke & Coughlin, 2009).

This multimodal learning is evident in what 21st century students have come to expect in their learning.  They want learning on demand and speed is the name of the game.  They are not afraid of technology. They multi-task, think less linearly than those of us over 30, enjoy fantasy as an element of their lives, are less tolerant of passive activities, and use their tools to stay connected with each other.  That connectedness is the main goal of their multitasking, according to Sprenger (2009), rather than for being productive.  However, excessive connectedness can lead to stress, which overtime can potentially “lower the effectiveness of the immune system, weaken cognitive functioning, and, in some cases, lead to depression”. Their excessive communicating digitally, while being efficient, also has the potential to weaken the development of emotional intelligence in dealing with face-to-face situations (e.g., reading facial cues and body language).

Probable Effects on Cognition

The rapid way in which ideas become freely available, the desire to get that information quickly, and the instantaneous way of switching from one source to another potentially affects learning in yet other ways.  While Schmidt (2010) noted benefits of technology (e.g., online gaming improves strategic reasoning, navigational reasoning, and hand-eye coordination), he voiced a concern that people might be losing deep-reading skills, as they spend less time reading long-form literature passages.  This probably has an effect on cognition and reading, although no one really knows what that does.

In Gasser and Palfrey’s (2009) view, multitasking is not going to go away.  It helps today’s youth to cope with the vast amount of information coming their way.  It takes on a couple of forms: parallel processing or doing more than one thing at the same time and task-switching or quickly changing from doing one thing to doing another.  Rather than preventing our students from multitasking, a better approach would be to help students understand how multitasking challenges their learning.  After reviewing several studies on the affects of multitasking, Gasser and Palfrey concluded:

Multitasking is likely to change learning qualitatively by making the learner rely on different memory systems that vary in flexibility when it comes to the use of knowledge.

The loss of attention and the time spent switching from task to task is likely to have an adverse effect on digital natives’ ability to learn complex new facts and concepts.  Multitasking and participatory learning can be seen in the online activities of youth, many of whom benefit from the informal settings and activities they have defined for themselves.  In what has been called “the most extensive U.S. study of youth media use” to date, Mizuko Ito, Heather Horst, Matteo Bittanti, Danah Boyd, Becky Herr-Stephenson, Patricia G. Lange, C.J. Pascoe, and Laura Robinson (2008) found that youth use online media to extend friendships and interests. They engage in peer-based, self-directed learning online. The scenario has implications for instructional designers and educators: Adults should facilitate young people’s engagement with digital media. “Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning”. Youth using new media often learn from their peers, not teachers or adults. Yet, in interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play (e.g. in setting learning goals).

To stay relevant in the 21st century, education institutions need to keep pace with the rapid changes introduced by digital media.


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