A cloistered order (for example, the Carmelites) cuts themselves off as much as possible from the world. Their members never or seldom leave their house. In some communities when visitors come the nun will receive them from behind a grill or heavy veil that covers her face. These orders are the strictest and hardest but because they have cut themselves off from the world they can concentrate more on God and prayer. Their life is one of manual labor and prayer.
The semi-cloistered community separates themselves partially from the world, in that their members do not go out into the world to work, but bring those in need into their houses. They will have schools or orphanages, etc. but inside their communities. Whatever apostate they have takes place inside their community with the people coming to them and leaving. An example of this type of community would be the Dominicans, the Visitations, etc.
An active religious community goes out into the world to accomplish their apostolate. Nursing sisters, religious who teach in parishes, social workers visiting the poor or caring for elderly in their own homes or in a public institution are members of active religious communities. The Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of St. Joseph, etc. are examples of this type of religious. My own community is as well.
In the early ages of the church most all communities were monastic and therefore strictly cloistered. About the time of the protestant reformation semi-cloistered communities began because the need for education and that was something that could be done inside a religious house.
About the time of the French Revolution active communities began. St. Vincent de Paul saw the need for religious to go about and help the poor and needy. His sister, “the angels of the battlefield” cared for the wounded and dying, started hospitals, and went anywhere that they needed. Other religious orders followed each with its own apostolate: orphanages, hospitals, home visitation, education, parochial schools, social service, etc. Today the majority of religious communities are active lay religious institutes.