Education Online

Glossary of terms



Any characteristic of technology that makes it usable to people with disabilities. An accessible website has provisions for people with visual, hearing, motor or cognitive difficulties.


Certification or official recognition that an educational institution meets specific measures of quality.


A signal (used for storing and transferring data) that is received in the same form in which it is transmitted. Analog signals are transmitted more slowly than digital signals.

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Audio on demand


A small application often embedded within a web page. Used for multimedia such as animation.


A computer program that can stand alone. For example, word processors and web browsers are applications.


Active Server Pages. Web pages that can be generated dynamically based on user input. Most web pages are HTML (which means that they are created using static content) rather than ASP.


The process of evaluating an online learner's knowledge.

Asynchronous learning

Learning that involves no synchronization - students and instructors are not online at the same time and interaction does not occur without a time delay. Students can access course materials at any time of day. Technologies that are used to facilitate asynchronous learning include e-mail, online discussion forums and CD-ROM.

Audio conferencing

A voice-only connection between more than two sites, using phone or computer messaging technology.


A digital image used online as a representation of a real world person. "Avatar" was originally a Sanskrit term for manifestation or incarnation.



The information carrying capacity of any communication channel.


Bulletin Board System. Any online community which allows users to log on and post messages. It might also include e-mail capabilities, chats among users and the ability to upload or share files.

Blended learning

A combination of face-to-face learning and online learning.


Slang for an online journal, or "weblog". Authors can post their thoughts on current events (or any other subject matter) and the blog is viewable to anyone surfing the Internet.


Depending on the browser, this might also be called a "favorite." A web page or site that is saved for easy retrieval and quick launch.


Bits per second. The speed of data transmission over phone lines or cable. The number of bits that is transmitted in a second.

Brick and Mortar

The real world, or the opposite of the virtual world. In the world of online learning, brick and mortar refers to college and university campuses.


The broadest bandwidth available. Its actual speed varies with technological innovation.


A message delivered to a mass audience. For example, a television program is a broadcast. The word has recently been adapted to refer to online messages, including webcasting and podcasting.


An application or program that displays pages from the World Wide Web, allowing the user to move around the Internet. Common web browsers include Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla Firefox and Opera.


Cable modem

A modem that uses cable similar to that used for cable television. Cable modems are faster than modems that use phone lines.


Computer Assisted Instruction. Any form of instruction that uses computers as a medium for transmitting knowledge.

Case Study

A scenario (either fictional or factual) used to illustrate a problem.


Compact Disc, Read Only Memory. A compact disc with graphics and other instructional materials. Read only memory means that information cannot be removed from or added to the disc by the user.


The awarding of a credential acknowledging that an individual has shown proof of the minimal knowledge or competence required in a particular field. Quite often, it must meet the standards of an industry body.


Online text-based communication that occurs in real time. In online learning, chat is used by some courses or programs to help students communicate with each other or with their instructor.


Computer Managed Instruction. The use of computers to oversee the learning process.


Content Management System. A software application that centralizes and streamlines all aspects of design and content for a system of e-learning or web sites.


Content on Demand. Stored content that can be downloaded or otherwise delivered to a user at any time, from anywhere with access.


A device that can code or decode analog signals for transmission, using compression or other means. For example, a codec may be required to view certain types of video files.

Collaborative technology

Software, platforms and other technologies that allow people to communicate or work together. This may include file and application sharing, chat and more.


Any technology that reduces large files to a manageable size for easy transmission (or download). The most popular form of compression is Zip.


In online learning terms, this can refer to the text on a course website. It can also be more general and refer to pictures, video, animations and simulations in addition to text.


The combination of various technologies into a simpler format.


Hidden information stored on the computer of any visitor to a website. This information is used by your computer to track data. If left unchecked, cookies can accumulate and slow down your computer's operating speed. Cookies are closely related to the "Cache" or "Temporary Internet Files."


The instructional or educational materials that make up a course. In online learning, the courseware is delivered over the Internet or via software such as a CD-ROM.


Central Processing Unit. The part of the computer that houses the power supply, microprocessor, hard drive and other discs.


A slang term for the Internet, originally coined by William Gibson in his cyberpunk classic, Neuromancer.



A setting that any computer system (including browsers and software) uses automatically. The term implies that these can be changed according to users' preferences.


Using a modem to connect to the Internet via telephone lines.


The reduction of information to its most discrete and simplest form, which allows for fast transmission.

Discussion Forums

Also called discussion boards, these virtual "bulletin boards" allow users to post written thoughts, ideas, links and more to a web page that others can read and respond to.


A nickname for a floppy disk, CD, DVD or CD-ROM.

Distance Learning / Distance Education

Any learning situation in which the instructor and student are separated by time, distance or both. In the past, this term referred to correspondence courses using taped lectures and typed lecture notes, but it now includes online learning.


A file that is transferred to a user's computer from a central source, via the Internet. As a verb, "to download" refers to the process of transferring files to one's computer.


Digital Subscriber Line. High speed Internet access (up to 10 Mbps) using phone lines.



Electronic learning. Most often this refers to learning on the Internet, but it may also include other computer-based learning tools such as CD-ROMS and other software.


Messages sent via the Internet, from one user to another.

End User

The individual for whom a particular technology or website is designed. Students are the end users of online learning materials.


Any design principles that relate to comfort and ease of use.


A restricted local area network in which computers can communicate much the same way they do over the Internet.


A local area network that is available to a specific group of people, usually employees belonging to an organization or perhaps students taking a course. It may employ HTML and other kinds of web pages.


False starter

A person who does not complete an online learning course.


Frequently Asked Questions. A list, in question and answer format, of inquiries that are typical of site users or other educational materials.


Communication from an instructor to a student concerning the completion of an assignment.


Technology to maintain the internal security of a computer system, often used as protection against viruses.


An application that enables the creation and viewing of animations and small movies that can be used as a visual aid for online learning.


File Transfer Protocol. A procedure that allows a user to move files from a distant computer using any network, such as the Internet.



Gigabyte. 1,000 megabytes - a unit of measurement in bits of information.


Graphics Interchange Format. A file format for storing images. A GIF can allow for some animation, as opposed to JPEGs, which are always static.


Any digital picture, clipart or logo that is viewable on the Internet.


Graphic User Interface. A computer interface that uses pictures and icons (as well text and other materials).


Hard drive

A drive that is enclosed within a computer. Most PCs have one hard drive that is the central storage unit of the computer.

Hard skills

Technical skills related to work.


The opening page of a website. It is also called the index or the splash page.


Hypertext Markup Language. The programming language that is still primarily used to create web pages.


Hypertext Transfer Protocol. A set of procedures to govern transfer of information across the World Wide Web.


The kind of text used in web pages to link material, allowing you to "jump" anywhere in space and time on the Internet.



A single symbol representing a complex function or operation.


Integrated Learning Systems. Any system of instruction that uses several modes, such as software, hardware, text, etc.


Instructional Management System. Refers to a coalition of government organizations dedicated to defining specifications for online learning and online learning products.

Information architecture

The organization or design of information. This is especially important in online learning.

Instant Messenger

An application that allows users to communicate online in real time, using text, emoticons, animations and more. Examples include MSN Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger.


A network protected from outside intrusion, provided for the sole use of employees belonging to an organization.


Internet Service Provider. A company that provides users with Internet service.


Information Technology. The industry that uses computers to collect and disseminate data.


Java / JavaScript

A coding language used in conjunction with HTML to make web pages more interactive and dynamic.

Java applet

A small Java application that is used as part of a web page.


Joint Photographic Experts Group. A kind of image file that allows for file compression.



Kilobyte. Although usually rounded off to1,000 bytes, a kilobyte is, in fact, 1,024 bytes.


Knowledge management system. Any system that can capture, organize and store information used by people within an organization.

Knowledge base

A database for storing knowledge assets



Local Area Network. A collection of computers and other hardware linked together and located within a relatively small area, such as an office.

Learning environment

The physical or virtual setting in which learners and teachers are together.

Learning object

Any collection of information that is used as a building block in a course.

Learning portal

Any website that acts as a window into a collection of websites or sources of information all related to one specific subject.


Any HTML that allows the user to move to another web page or web site.


Learning Management System. Any system that organizes training materials.


Reading posts in a discussion forum without contributing your own thoughts.


M - learning

Mobile learning. Any learning that takes place via mobile platforms such as a laptop, PDA or cell phone.


Megabyte. Often considered to be 1 million bytes, it is actually 1,048,576 bytes.


Megabits per second. A measurement of transmission speed for uploads, downloads and other data transfer.


Career development in which less experienced workers are paired with experienced ones.


A device that enables computers to interact with each other and the Internet.


Moving Picture Experts Group. A video file format that uses compression for easy, fast transmission.


A music file format that uses compression for fast, easy transmission.


Multi User Domain. A virtual world, usually found on the Internet, in which users can interact with other users, most often through avatars. These are most often used found in online games such as Doom or World of Warcraft, but they are gaining an increasingly widespread use in online learning.


The use of various media to convey one message.



The various design features that enable you to move within a website or online course. Links are an example of navigation.


Some purists use the form "'Net". Either word is a slang term for the Internet.



The state of being connected to another computer or server via a network.

Online learning

Learning delivered by Internet based technology, including websites, e-mail, etc.

Open source software

Any software in which the source code is made available so that users can interact with it or change it to their own needs, but still leave it open for others to modify it.

Operating System

A computer program that controls all the components and facilitates operation of programs and applications. Windows is an example of an operating system.


Page turner

A derogatory term for any online learning course that is not information intensive enough.


Personal Digital Assistant. A handheld computer that can be used to organize information such as contacts, calendar dates, etc. These can also interact with the Internet, usually.


Portable Document Format. A file format developed by Adobe to enable the document to be transported across platforms while maintaining its original format.


Peer to peer. Any network or website that allows users to share files.


The smallest component of a computer image.

Plug and play

Any format or device that allows the user to immediately install and begin using it.


Portable Networks Graphic. A graphics format that allows for transparency and does not compress file size as small as with a GIF or JPEG.


Post office protocol. Standards governing the retrieval of e-mail messages.


Any website that acts as a doorway to pages or sites that are grouped around one particular subject.


To submit a written message on a discussion forum.

Prescriptive learning

A process for personalizing learning, in which a learner's skill and knowledge gaps have been identified, and the material is customized to meet those.

Proctored exam

An exam that is overseen by an impartial individual (called a proctor) who supervises a student while he or she is writing the exam. The proctor is there to ensure the security and integrity of the exam process.


A set of standards that must be followed in the exchange of data.



Random Access Memory. The temporary storage capacity of your computer that allows you to access and use files or programs.

Real time communication

Any communication technology in which a message is sent and received simultaneously, mimicking the timing of face-to-face conversation. Instant messaging is an example of real time communication.


The clarity of a video display screen or monitor.


Reusable Learning Object. Any collection of materials that can be applied to a variety of learning sites or courses.



The degree to which any application (such as an online learning course) can be expanded in size, volume or number of users.


A device that can convert a printed page or image into a usable computer image file.

Screen reader

Any software that speaks text on the screen. Often used by individuals who are visually impaired.


A picture or "capture" of the image displayed on a computer screen. These images can be used for other applications, such as presentations.


A set of instructions that is carried out by a computer program.


To use your keyboard or mouse to move on a computer screen, whether up, down, left or right.

Section 508

A section of the Rehabilitation Act stating that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Self assessment

Any process through which an online learner determines his or her level of knowledge.

Self-paced learning

Any form of learning in which the student determines timing of the delivery of learning materials.

Serial port

Any connection point where peripheral devices are attached to a computer. For example, a computer mouse plugs in to a serial port.


A computer used for holding web site data and other information. Servers are also used to connect incoming and outgoing data transmission.


Any interactive graphic, movie or other medium that allows users to see a process in action or to interact with that process. In online learning, simulations can be an effective learning tool.

Skills inventory

A list of the skills possessed by an individual.


Subject matter expert. Any individual recognized as possessing the qualifications necessary to teach a subject.

Soft skill

Any business skill, such as interpersonal communication, leadership, communication or anything similar, that is not easily quantifiable or testable.


Any set of instructions that allows a computer to perform a specialized task. Also referred to as programs.

Source code

Program instructions written by a software developer or website designer that are later translated for computer use.


Junk e-mail that is sent to a mass audience, usually to advertise. The word is also used as a verb.


A computer programming language that is used for accessing information in a database.


A specification in online learning, set by a governing body, to ensure quality.

Streaming media

Any video or audio file that can be played while it is still downloading (without having to wait for the entire download to finish).

Synchronous learning

Any kind of learning that simulates a live classroom setting. In a synchronous virtual classroom, all students and the instructor interact simultaneously. They communicate in real time. This is possible with videoconferencing, VoIP and other new technologies.



Transmission Control Protocol. Any protocol ensuring that data is sent and received in a particular order.


Working at home but connecting to an office by way of the Internet or other network.


A predefined set of tools that forms a structure to give a web site or learning environment consistency.


Any series of messages on a particular topic, as found in a discussion forum.

Transparent Technology

Technology that is easy to use or "intuitive" in nature.


A set of step-by-step instructions that assist a user in accomplishing a task, such as learning a new computer program.



To send a file from a computer to a server.


Uniform Resource Locator. The address of a World Wide Web page. For example, the URL of this site is


The measure of how easy it is to use a website or other online learning materials. If it is difficult for a user to navigate a website or to find the information they want, then the online education materials are said to have poor usability.



The combination of video and audio signals to facilitate communication between two or more people. This is an example of synchronous learning.


Existing in a world that is not concrete or physical. The Internet is a virtual world.

Virtual classroom

The online learning space where students and instructors meet.


A computer program designed to infiltrate and disrupt or disable the normal operation of a computer or program.


Video on Demand.


Voice over Internet protocol. Voice transmitted (digitally) over the Internet. The technology enables users to bypass long distance charges.



The World Wide Web Consortium, an organization that sets universal specifications for websites and web tools.


A computer network that spans a large area. One example of a WAN is the Internet.


Wireless Application Protocol, a specification that allows Internet content to be read by wireless devices.


Web-based learning. Any learning that is delivered via a web browser. This can include content delivered over the Internet, an intranet or an extranet.


Web-based training. See WBL (web-based learning).


A combination of the words web and seminar. A seminar that is delivered over the web. It can be stored for later downloading. Like a seminar, it can be used as a demonstration or presentation on a particular topic.

Web page

A single page from a website. The home page or splash page of a website is an example of a web page.


Usually a collection of linked web pages and files that are kept under one URL.


An electronic version of a blackboard that allows learners to view the drawings or writings of an online instructor.


Products that have wireless fidelity capability, or the ability to function wirelessly.


Any small application that guides you through a process, such as the step-by-step setting up or downloading of a program.


Wireless Markup Language. The language that allows web pages to be reduced for display on a wireless device.


A type of virus that is capable of replicating itself many times over.


Write Once, Read Many. A type of data storage disk that allows information to be saved to it only once.



Extensible Markup Language. A coding language used in some web pages.

Zip file

A compressed file that may hold many files and folders. It comes with a .ZIP extension. Many online learning files come in this format. Zip files must be extracted before their contents can be viewed.

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