I work part time for an online k-12 school. I also often teach graduate school courses in online or blended format. I have no problem with online schools, I think they are a great option to have but the phrase "online learning" has never really set well with me even though I have often used it.
What bothers me about "online learning" is strictly a nit picky issue. Is learning really different online than off? How does the cognitive act of learning differ for the self online as opposed face-to-face or self-guided with non-connected stimuli? I doubt it's difference is very significant yet we use the term "online learning" to describe something supposedly very different than what happens in other learning environments.
Pay emphasis to the content (online content), environment (online learning environment), the institution (online school), or anything else that really is different but I really do not think we have sufficient ground to claim that the act of learning is significantly different enough when online to use the phrase if we are refering to the learning of an individual.
However, if we take this term and consider how it might be more accurately used we end up with it describing some form of artificial intelligence. If this is what we mean by "online learning" that by connecting people, content, and sensory input devices together in a way where some kind of collective intelligence is emerging (as in the theory of Connectivism) or by some miracle a new life emerges out of these connections then the term "online learning" has a sufficient meaning. However, this is not how it is usually used. In fact I rarely hear people use the phrase to describe what I have just proposed. Instead, "online learning" is usually used as a misplaced synonym for "online schooling." I suspect the common use of the term stems from a general misconception that schooling and education are the same thing and that schooling is necessarily about learning. That is the ideal and it is what we should strive for but the reality is that they are different. Therefore, I have to add "online learning" to my list of words I am beginning to have a real problem with.
This post is tenth in my "war on words" series. Other terms in this series are: "best practices," "child-centered," "value added," accountability, "data-driven decisions," "learning objectives," "21st Century," "personalized learning," and "accomplishment/achievement."