Online Education Glossary

A Guide to Online Education Definitions

online student standing in front of her computer

Let our glossary of online education terms and definitions help you make the best choices about your online education program path. Read what you'll need–from your computer requirements to learning terms and curriculum tests—to ensure that you know what you'll need to do to earn your online degree before you begin.


An applet is a small software program or application that runs on a browser and enables additional features like Flash animation or videos to be embedded and easily accessed. Some examples of applets include Java applet, Flash movies and Windows Media Player.

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning is an educational event or course where the student can work according to his/her own schedule and where the student and instructor are usually geographically separate. Interaction between the instructor and student is delayed over time, and the course work is self-directed and self-paced by the student.

Audio Conferencing

Audio conferencing is a telephone call connecting three or more people to allow for a group conference or discussion. It’s used for synchronous learning to connect people in separate locations. In most cases, participants call into the conference call by dialing a special telephone number or calling into a conference bridge. This is sometimes referred to as an audio tele-conference (ATC).


A blackboard is a collaborative, virtual space where multiple parties contribute ideas towards the solution of a problem by posting information, solution ideas and suggestions. Each addition to the blackboard brainstorm is intended to increase collective understanding until a problem has been solved.


A blog is a public website or web page where the user (or blogger) makes entries by posting information, often in the form of commentary on a particular subject, journal entries, personal reflections and related links. Most blogs are primarily text-based, though other types include photoblogs, sketchblogs, video blogs (vlogs) and audio postings (podcasts). Most are designed with a comment system so readers can respond to and discuss the posts. Blog is short for weblog.

CD ROM Companion Disks

CD ROM stands for compact disk read-only memory and is an electronic data storage system used for playing back audio, video, text and other information on a computer or other CD readers. Companion disks accompany books or equipment to provide supplemental instructional information.


Chat refers to an online interactive communication using text to send and receive instant messages in real-time. Online chats can be typed, one-on-one conversations or group conversations (also known as synchronous conferencing).

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

CLEPs are standardized tests on different topics offered by a college board to determine students’ subject proficiency levels. A majority of schools will grant college credit in the test’s particular subject area with a sufficiently high CLEP score. Each test usually corresponds to one or two semesters of credit at the introductory level.


A cohort is a group of peers in one course or program. Cohort-based courses in e-learning emphasize interaction between classmates as an important part of the learning process.

College Credit for Corporate Training

College credit is granted by some schools for approved non-college corporate training, which participants can apply to their ongoing college education, advanced course placement or pursuit of a degree. Generally, the corporate training program must be pre-approved for credit by the school or credit granting organization.

College Credit for Military Training

Many schools award college credit for previous military training, course work and occupational expertise. Once granted, this credit can help fill college requirements, achieve advanced course placement and be applied to the pursuit of a college degree.

Computer-Based Training (CBT)

A learning event or course conducted on a computer, but unlike instructor-led training (ILT) and web-based training (WBT), CBT usually occurs without much direct instructor input and without the use of a network connection. This usually implies asynchronous learning at the professional or corporate level.


Cookies are simple pieces of data placed on a computer hard drive by a website that records information such as a name, site login, password, preferences, shopping cart info or other entered details. On subsequent visits, the website accesses the cookies stored on the computer, retrieving the stored information and customizing the web page to match the user’s pre-entered data.

Course Management System (CMS)

CMS is a software system that facilitates e-learning or supplements classroom learning and administration. These systems are usually run on servers and accessed by students as web pages. These may include stored student work, e-learning resources, discussion forums, peer communication tools, tracking of student progress, exercises and quizzes. CMS is sometimes referred to as a learning management system (LMS) or a virtual learning environment (VLE).

Diploma Mill

A diploma mill is an organization that grants academic degrees and diplomas with very little or no academic study, operating without supervision or recognition by official accrediting sources. Diplomas from a diploma mill have little worth in academic or work arenas. These are also known as degree mills.

Distance Learning / Education

Distance learning is a well-recognized type of education that occurs when the instructor and the students are in physically separate locations. Distance education may be synchronous or asynchronous and many times includes correspondence, video or satellite broadcasts, or computer-based online education. Distance education or learning usually implies a higher (postsecondary) education level.

Distance Training

Distance training is a type of distance learning at the corporate or professional level, where the instructor and the learners are in physically separate locations. Distance training is more commonly referred to as distributed learning, web-based training (WBT) or online education.

Distributed Learning

Distributed learning is a type of distance learning that makes use of information technology. Distributed learning includes most types of distance learning but not plain correspondence via the mail.


E-learning is any type of learning that utilizes a network (LAN, WAN or Internet) for delivery, interaction or facilitation. There are many versions of e-learning, including:

  • Distributed Learning Distance
  • Learning Computer-Based Training (CBT)
  • Web-Based Training (WBT)

E-learning can be synchronous, asynchronous, instructor-led, computer-based or a combination of these options.


Email refers to electronic messages consisting primarily of text in a letter-style format, sent between computers via a network such as the Internet. Email is short for electronic mail.

Excelsior College Examinations (ECE)

ECE is a series of subject tests offered by Excelsior College which can be used to earn college-level credit and advanced placement at many colleges and universities. The ECE consists of a wide variety of exam topics usually corresponding to a 1- or 2-semester introductory or secondary course.

GI Bill

The GI Bill is a congressional bill that provides benefits to returning members of the armed forces to help them pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree at a college, university or accredited independent study program. The GI Bill is an education benefit earned by active duty, selected reserve and National Guard service members. This is also referred to as the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB).

Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)

The GMAT is a standardized test for measuring aptitude in business studies, commonly required by MBA programs as part of the application for admission. The GMAT includes an analytical writing assessment, verbal and quantitative (problem solving and data sufficiency) sections.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

The GRE is a standardized test administered by the Educational Testing Service and often required by graduate schools as part of the application for admission. The GRE General Test includes a verbal section testing vocabulary and reading comprehension, and a quantitative section with problem solving and quantitative comparison questions.

There are also GRE Subject Tests intended for students who have majored in or have extensive background in the specific academic area being tested. These tests assess knowledge in eight subjects: biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, chemistry, computer science, literature in English, mathematics, physics and psychology. Admission requirements regarding the GRE Subject Tests vary by school and program.

Hope Scholarship Tax Credit

The Hope Scholarship is a tax credit offered to students enrolled at least half-time in an eligible college degree or certificate program and in their first or second year of undergraduate study (freshmen or sophomore). The credit is subtracted directly from the income tax owed by the tax-paying student, spouse of the student or family claiming the student as a dependent. Students or their families may be eligible to receive 100 percent of their first $1,000 of tuition, and 50 percent of their next $1,000, with a maximum credit of $1,500.

Hybrid Instruction / Courses

Hybrid instruction / Courses are educational programs that use a combination of online and traditional classroom instruction.

Instant Messaging (IM)

IM is a form of real-time communication between two or more people using typed text sent between computers. Instant Messaging allows for conversation-style communication, unlike email’s letter-style format.

Interactive Course

An interactive course is a distance learning course that incorporates at least some interactive components, such as student interaction with technology, active instructor feedback, communication between peers, communication between students and an instructor and possible peer collaboration.

Instructor-Led Training (ILT)

An ILT is a learning event or course led by an instructor and either held in a physical location or delivered via a network as a form of web-based training (WBT). ILT usually implies synchronous learning at the professional or corporate level.

Local Area Network (LAN)

LAN refers to a network connecting a group of computers in relative proximity to each other. A LAN allows users to communicate and share information with each other, as well as providing access to shared devices such as file servers, printers and modems.

Lifetime Learning Tax Credit

The Lifetime Learning tax credit is available to students taking at least one class from an accredited school, including classes in undergraduate and graduate programs and approved courses for acquiring or improving the student’s job skills. The credit is subtracted directly from the income tax owed by the tax-paying student, spouse of the student or a family claiming the student as a dependent. Students or their families may be eligible to receive 20 percent of the first $10,000 spent on educational expenses, with a maximum credit of $2,000. The Lifetime Learning tax credit is not applicable if a student is already filing for the Hope Scholarship tax credit.

Online Learning

Online learning is e-learning over the Internet or World Wide Web (WWW) as opposed to using a local or wide area network.

Online Training

Online training is online learning (e-learning over the Internet) at the professional or corporate level.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) / Life Experience Recognition (LER)

PLA or LER is a systematic procedure used to evaluate or grant credit for learning that occurred outside of formal educational institutions, such as knowledge and skills acquired through work experiences, self-directed study, community work, non-credit courses or corporate training programs. These types of assessments are often used to help gain admission into a post-secondary program or for advanced placement in an area of study.

Social Networking

Students can communicate immediately through various social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Streaming Video

Streaming video is a technique where video is downloaded via a network to the user’s computer in a continuous stream. The streaming technique allows the video to be played immediately and simultaneously with its download on the computer.

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning is an educational event or course where instructional interaction happens simultaneously in real-time. This form of learning requires that students attend class or lectures at specific times, whether in a traditional physical classroom or delivered via distributed or e-learning technologies. Rather than purely self-paced by the student, synchronous learning follows a predetermined schedule.

Threaded Discussion

Threaded discussion is an electronic discussion (via email, email list, bulletin board, newsgroup, or Internet forum) in which messages are visually grouped, often by topic (called a thread or topic thread). Threaded topics allow for easier reading and location of information by the user.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is live video and audio communication between three or more locations to facilitate a group conference or discussion. It is used for synchronous learning to connect people in separate locations.

Virtual Library

A virtual library is a collection of information in digital formats (as opposed to print or other media) and is accessible via computers. This digital information can often be accessed remotely using a network such as the Internet. A virtual library is also called a digital Library or an electronic library.

Wide Area Network (WAN)

WAN is a computer network that covers a broad area, creating informational and communication links between computers that are not necessarily in close proximity to each other. A WAN is often used to connect LANs or other types of networks together, or to connect a LAN to the Internet. (Some consider the Internet itself to be the largest example of a WAN.)

Web-Based Training (WBT)

Web-based training is education or training that is delivered over a network (LAN, WAN or Internet). WBT can be either instructor led or computer based with either asynchronous or synchronous learning. This type of e-learning usually implies the professional or corporate level.