Online Education Glossary

The NACTEL dictionary for adults returning to college

Below are some of the terms may come across in your education pursuits. While many of these may be familiar, some adults returning to school after some time may find these foreign.



Academic calendar

A list of dates and deadlines that is created by each college or University that outline student activity throughout the year;. Typical entries will indicate when to register, when classes start, the final drop/add date, and when a student may withdraw without penalty.

Accelerated learning

Credit-bearing courses which are condensed to be shorter than the traditional academic semester, which is 15 weeks in length, or the traditional academic quarter, which is 10 weeks in length. "Accelerated" can refer to either a course or to a degree program

Accreditation Terms

Accreditation is important and can be confusing for someone new to higher education.

  1. Tuition assistance is available for regionally accredited colleges and universities.
  2. Coursework taken from regionally accredited colleges and universities is more readily transferrable than that taken from schools that are not regionally accredited.


Officially recognized as meeting specific academic requirements


Decision made by a college or University to accept an individual as a student in that school

Advanced degree

A degree that follows the Bachelor's degree (i.e. Master's or Doctorate).


Academic advising is a collaborative process between a student and an advisor in which a student's background, educational experience, transcripts, placement tests, etc. are reviewed for placement within a school or program.


A written (or online) request made to become a student at a particular college or University

Associate's Degree

A degree primarily granted by community or junior colleges after completion of two years of study or the first half of a Bachelor's degree.


An online learning format in which students access learning materials and/or participate in a class on their own schedule. There is no particular, pre-set time for a class to meet, even though a faculty member may have "office hours" or other synchronous events.

Bachelor of Arts

A Bachelor's degree usually awarded for studies in the social sciences or humanities, also called a Baccalaureate or Liberal Arts degree.

Bachelor of Science

A Bachelor's degree awarded for studies in natural science, pure science, or technology.

Bachelor's degree

A degree awarded by a college or University to a person who has completed undergraduate studies. Also called a Baccalaureate.


The transmission capacity of an electronic communications device or system> The speed of data transfer

Blended learning

A term that refers to the combination of both classroom and online learning.


Data transmission of a high-speed


Adjacent bits, usually eight, processed by a computer as a unit


A document issued by an institution or other entity that attests to the fact that a person completed an educational course or series of courses, but not a degree.


A process that confirms professional or technical status, usually after the completion of some sort of external review, education and/or formal assessment.

Continuing Education Unit (CEU)

A unit of credit equal to ten hours of participation in an accredited program designed for professionals with certificates or licenses to practice various professions.


The term used to describe the traditional learning format of students and a teacher together at a specific time in a specific place; also called "face-to-face"


An institution of higher education, particularly one that provides a general or liberal arts education rather than technical or professional training; sometimes called "four-year institution"

Community College

A public institution that is funded by local, regional or state tax dollars, providing both general and vocational/technical education and granting both certificates and Associate's degrees. Sometimes called a "two-year college" or a "junior college."

Computer-based Training (CBT)

A learning format in which all learning material is on a person's desktop. CBT is generally not offered for academic credit.


A learning format in which materials (books, tapes, videos, assignments, etc) are sent back and forth between teacher and student


A value that is assigned to a class and/or degree that is often related to how often the course meets, how much content is covered, and the number of student outcomes.

Credit for Prior Learning

Credit from previous documented learning that a student's current institution will accept into a degree or certificate program, which can include transfer credit, credit achieved from national or institutional exams, credit recommended from the American Council on Education (ACE), or credit gained from creating and evaluating a learning portfolio.

Credit hours

A value assigned to a course based on the credit and number of contact hours a course is determined to have.

Distance learning

A term used to describe a wide array of learning formats that are not classroom-based, including internet classes, correspondence courses, satellite or closed-circuit television learning.

Doctor of Philosophy

This degree, abbreviated PhD or Ph.D., is the highest academic degree granted in a wide range of disciplines by a college or University


The period of time in the academic calendar when a student may drop and add courses without academic penalty.


A variety of courses which the student can shoose from which will allpy toward the overall degree or certificate guidelines or requirements.

Financial Aid

Funding which is accessed through a college or University to help students pay educational expenses including tuition and fees and books and supplies. Scholarship is sometimes used as a synonym for a financial aid, although grants and student loans are also student-aid.


A college or University that is owned and managed by a private, profit-seeking entity and that has not achieved a not-for-profit tax status. Some of the larger for-profit colleges which are regionally accredited include Capella University, University of Phoenix, DeVry University, Strayer University, KaplanUniversity, Walden University, American InterContinental University, New England College of Business and Finance, and Jones International University, among others.

Full time student

Full-time status is determined by the number of credit hours a student has registered for, and is generally 12 credit hours per semester or academic term.

General education (Gen-Ed)

Course requirements that are part of every degree program at every college and University intended to provide exposure to a variety of subject areas (math, sciences, humanities, communication) with the goal of graduating a person with a well-rounded education.

Gigabyte (GB or Gig)

A measure of storage capacity equal to 1 billion (109) bytes.

Graduate student

A student who holds the Bachelor's or the first professional degree and is studying for an advanced degree.


A temporary grade given to a student who does not complete the required assignments in a particular course. An incomplete will typically become a failing grade (F) after a pre-determined period of time.


An online learning format in which students are in a virtual class with an instructor who is responsible for leading and supporting students in that class.

Junior College

An older term that refers to Community College.

Just In Time learning

A learning format, most often online, which offers a wide choice of learning materials. Students access these materials to acquire new knowledge just before neding to use that knowledge in a practical manner.

Liberal Arts College

A liberal arts college is one with a primary emphasis on undergraduate study aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, as opposed to professional, vocational, or technical curriculum

Master's degree

A degree awarded by a graduate school or department, following the Bachelor's degree, to a person who has completed at least one year of graduate study.

Megabyte (MB or Meg)

A measure of storage capacity of approximately one million bytes

Nationally accredited

The determination by one of several national accrediting bodies that a college or University meets a set of quality standards. See the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for more information


The term applied to courses that don't meet the requirements for academic credit.

Online learning

A learning format in which learning material is delivered via the internet

Open-entry / open exit

A learning format, most often online, in which students access materials on their own individual schedules, for as often or as long they want or need to.

Part-time student

Part-time status is determined by the number of credit hours a student has registered for, generally less than 12 credit hours per semester or acamedic term.

Placement exams

An exam to evaluate where to start a student in such subjects as math and reading. It's a tool to help students who may have been out of school for a while to know which classes to start in to make it more likely that will do well in the first classes that they take.


A document produced by a student, typically as the result of a portfolio course, intended to demonstrate previous learning, which is then evaluated for potential academic credit


Also called "higher education" and refers to any education following the completion of a high school diploma.


Coursework or conditions that are required before a student enrolls in a particular course or program.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

The process by which a student's former learning, both formal and informal is tested evaluated for possible academic credit. Prior Learning Assessment can include:

  • Transfer credit
  • School-sponsored challenge exams
  • Standardized national exams developed by CLEP and DANTES
  • ACE (American Council on Education) recommended credit for certain knowledge (e.g. military training)
  • Portfolio

Private University

A college or University that is not operated by a government entity, though many receive public subsidies and are subject to government regulation. Tuition and fees at private universities tend to be higher than at public universities.

Professional degree

This degree prepares a person for a particular profession by emphasizing competency skills along with theory and analysis. It is typically accompanied by professional licensing or other regulation which allows the person to practice this profession. Typical areas of study include:

  • Nursing
  • Architecture
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Chiropractic
  • Engineering
  • Dentistry
  • Psychology
  • Accounting
  • Audiology
  • Physical therapy
  • Optometry
  • Pharmacy
  • Education.

Proprietary school

A school organized as a profit-making venture primarily to teach vocational skills or self-improvement techniques.

Public University

A college or University that is predominantly funded by public (local, state, or regional) tax dollars. Tuition at public universities for "in-state" or "in-region" students tends to be lower than at private institutions.

Quarter hours

A unit of academic credit fulfilled by completing one hour of class instruction each week for one quarter (10 weeks)

Random Access Memory (RAM)

A form of computer memory available temporarily that the computer uses to execute commands and perform processes.

Regionally accredited

The determination by one of six regional accrediting bodies in the United States that a college or University meets a set of quality standards. The six regional agencies include:

  1. Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  2. New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  3. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  4. Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  5. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  6. Western Association of Schools and Colleges

See the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for more information.


The act of signing up / entering academic classes.


Courses which must be taken as part of a degree or certificate program


A learning format in which students proceed through the class at their own pace, as opposed to a more structured, instructor-led format in which activities and deliverables have a particularly time table

Semester hours

A unit of academic credit fulfilled by completing one hour of class instruction each week for one semester (15 weeks)

Student Services

The array of non-classroom support services provided to students at a college or University. Typical services include the bookstore, library, advising, financial aid, accounting, etc...


An online learning format in which students meet at a particular, pre-set time


an official report supplied by a school on the record of an individual student, listing subjects studied, grades received, etc. Colleges and universities will request an official transcript which comes directly from the previous school and carries a school seal.

Transcript evaluation

The advising process by which all previous transcripts are assessed to determine which previous coursework can be accepted by the current institution as part of a student's current academic program.


The process of accepting and bringing in earlier academic credits to the students current and/or future program of study.

Transfer credit

Credit from college coursework completion that a student's current institution will accept into a degree or certificate program.


A student in a University or college who has not received a first degree. (e.g. a Bachelor's degree)


An institution of higher education that has several colleges within it, particularly a college of liberal arts and a program of graduate studies together with several professional schools, as of theology, law, medicine, and engineering, and authorized to confer both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Sometimes called four-year institution

Vocational school

Generally a post-secondary school, sometimes the final year(s) of high school, providing preparation for specific jobs and/or technical education. Can be public or private, non-profit, or for-profit.


The formal process of removing oneself from a course having previously registered.

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