To help online students keep up with the latest trends, U.S. News has compiled a glossary of important terms specifically about online education. While this list is not exhaustive, it can help you make sense of new terminology and maybe even find the best online program for you.
Asynchronous: Learning in which interaction between instructors and students occurs intermittently with a time delay. Students in asynchronous courses are not required to log in at a specific time to watch a lecture or participate in a discussion, but rather can do their work on their own schedule.
Council for Higher Education Accreditation: An evaluator of accrediting bodies which determines whether they maintain academic quality, improvement and accountability standards. CHEA posts a list of accrediting organizations that have been recognized by CHEA or the U.S. Department of Education.
Coursera: A for-profit education company founded by two Stanford University professors, Coursera offers more than 630 massive open online courses on a range of topics in partnership with universities. Courses are free, though students have to pay a fee to earn a verified completion certificate. Coursera offers several MOOCs recommended for credit by the American Council on Education.
Credit by Exam: A means of earning college credit through taking an exam. The College Level Examination Program, developed by The College Board, allows students to take 33 exams in five subject areas. Students can also take tests through DSST, a standardized test process first established by the Department of Defense, as well as through Excelsior College, Thomas Edison State College and a handful of other schools.
Digital badges: An image posted on a website, online resume or social media profile that validates someone's subject knowledge or achievement as measured by a credible organization.
Discussion boards: An online forum where students can interact with their classmates and instructor by posing and answering questions in the form of short posts. Participation in discussion boards is a requirement in many online courses.
Distance Education and Training Council: A national accrediting body, recognized by CHEA, that evaluates online schools and other distance education programs from high school through the doctoral level.
EdX: A nonprofit organization founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, edX offers more than 160 courses in an open-source online learning platform, meaning that other institutions will be able to host the courses themselves. Courses are free, though some courses have a fee for identification-verified certificates of achievement.
Learning Management Systems: The platform where students can view their syllabus, learn how to contact their professor and access most course materials, including online readings, videos, audio files and other resources. In some systems, students can also email and message their classmates and instructors. Common learning management systems include Blackboard, Moodle and Desire2Learn.
Massive Open Online Courses: These courses, commonly known as MOOCs, are entirely online and open to anyone with an Internet connection. MOOCs differ from typical online courses in two ways: They can draw hundreds or thousands of students; and they are usually, but not always, free. Students enrolled at universities offering MOOCs can get credit for the courses. The American Council on Education has also recommended several MOOCs for credit.
Proctoring: Online students can be monitored by proctors both in person, if their program requires that they take tests at a specific location, or online, via webcam. Proctoring aims to combat cheating by ensuring students are who they say they are.
Residency Requirement: The amount of time a specific distance education course or program requires an online student to spend on campus.
Synchronous: An online class structure similar to that in an on-ground class, in which students meet with their instructor in real time and communicate with each other. Students and their instructor log on at the same time, using tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Meetings.io and other platforms to interact.