Glossary of Online School Terms

Glossary of Frequently Used Online School Terms


An online school that is accredited possesses the legitimate ability to provide students with diploma, certification and degree programs that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. A list of authentic accreditation agencies can be found at Accreditation Agencies.

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning is the ability to log in to online classes when it is convenient for the student. With asynchronous learning, students are not required to be in attendance at certain times and rely on email, chat or message boards for communicating with instructors and classmates.

Brick and Mortar School

A traditional college or university as opposed to a virtual online college or university which does not have a physical campus setting.

Blended Learning/Hybrid learning

An approach to higher education that combines distance classes with “brick and mortar” classes. Many traditional schools are now allowing students to finish self-directed, online assignments by a specific date before meeting on-site for additional, hands-on training. This is especially useful for students wanting to earn trade or technical certifications or degrees.

Bulletin Board/Message Board

Most online classes provide message boards where students and instructors can post questions, answers and ideas as a way to asynchronously communicate with others taking the same course.


Online schools offer trade or technical certifications for students who want to learn a trade but do not want to attend school for several years. Certificate programs provide classes that are only relevant to the subject of the certificate. For example, a student taking classes to earn a small engine repair certificate will take classes dealing only with engines and their components. With degrees, students must take a wide range of classes called “general education” classes regardless of their major.

Cyberschool/Digital School/E-learning

Additional terms for referring to distance learning and online school degree programs.


Instructional materials delivered to online students that pertain to the course in which they are enrolled. Courseware can take the form of software, e-textbooks, lecture notes or audio/video files.


A certain number of credits, usually three or four, are award to students who successfully complete one online college or university class. Accumulation of these credits leads to students earning a degree, with more advanced degrees requiring more credits. Generally, a two-year, associate’s degree indicates a student who has accrued between 60 and 80 credits while earning a bachelor’s degree demands a student have between 120 and 140 credits.


Another term for course program, a curriculum is all of the classes included in a particular certificate or degree program.


The U.S. Department of Education recognizes four degrees that can be earned by completing federal and state educational requirements—associate’s (two-year degree); bachelor’s (four-year degree); master’s (six-year degree) and a doctorate (6+ year degree).
A student must complete a two-year degree before he or she can continue earning higher degrees.

Facilitator/Course moderator

Occasionally, online school students may hear the term “facilitator” or “course moderator” used when referencing an online instructor. Because virtual teachers do not provide the traditional “face-to-face” instructor roles, they tend to be viewed as facilitators of a course who supply self-motivated students with direction and insight.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid

The FAFSA website is where students can fill out and submit a free application that is used to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid. All accredited online schools accept FAFSAs and encourage every student to visit this website several months ahead of enrolling in an online degree program. Pell grants received by income-eligible students do not need repaid.

General Education Classes

A series of classes required by the U.S. Department of Education before a student is granted one of four recognized degrees. Even though a student is majoring in mathematics, he or she will need to take several liberal arts (about 60 credits worth) classes in order to fulfill this requirement.

High School Diploma/General Education Diploma

Students wishing to pursue an online degree must show proof of having earned a high school diploma or GED. A General Education Diploma is the equivalent of a high school diploma and is usually obtained by students who did not finish high school due to mitigating factors.

Institutional Grants

Financial awards provided by a higher learning institutions to outstanding students who are currently attending the school.


Students enrolled in certificate or degree programs that require the student to work a certain number of hours as an on-the-job trainee will need to participate in an unpaid internship. Examples of courses involving internships are nursing, counseling, teaching and trades such as heating and air or automotive.

Multimedia Learning Platform

Online classes implementing a variety of audio, video, text and graphic files is said to be using a multimedia learning platform in presenting instructional material for the class.

Non-traditional Student

Characteristically, a non-traditional student is older than most college students and is returning to school in order to further his or her career. A non-traditional student may have never been to college or chose to enter the workforce after receiving an associate’s degree and now wants to earn a more advanced degree.


A portfolio represents a collection of the student’s best work and is meant to assist the student in obtaining employment. Photographers, graphic artists and writers especially need portfolios when applying for jobs to give employers a sense of their talent, skill and style.

Standardized Achievement Test/SAT

Widely used by colleges and universities as a determinant for allowing students to enroll in one of their degree programs, the SAT is commonly taken by senior high school students prior to graduating and primarily involves writing, math and reading sections.


Scholarships are financial awards given to students for use in helping them pay for college. Like federal financial aid, scholarships do not need to be repaid. Usually provided by individuals, companies, organizations and universities, scholarships are based on a student’s ability to excel in the field they have chosen to pursue. Students desiring a certain scholarship must apply for the award by writing an essay stating why they should receive the award and describing any outstanding accomplishments they have attained.

Stafford Loans

In addition to Pell grants, the U.S. Government offers eligible students loans to help with tuition costs while earning a degree. Unlike Pell grants, Stafford Loans need repaid once the student has completed the program. For more information about unsubsidized and subsidized Stafford loans, visit the U.S Department of Education’s website discussing Stafford Loans.


The term used to indicate the cost for attending an online or traditional school. Tuition costs can be categorized as price per semester or as a yearly amount and includes the price of each class as well as any lab or additional fees associated with a student’s classes.

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