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General Resource Pages

While the vast majority of the content on this web site is organized into one of the 10 main sections, occasionally there were subjects that did not clearly fit into a specific category. These pages are referenced from other pages within the site, but are alos included here as another way to navigate to these pages:

  • Geographic Considerations – provides questions to consider when your online learning program may cross, school, district, or state boundaries.
  • Types of Interactivity – provides definitions of the four types of interactivity that occur in online courses.

Useful Documents

A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning. This iNACOL publication written by John Watson provides a good overview for people just getting started with online learning.

Access and Equity for All Learners in Blended and Online Education. This publication provides guidance, direction, and resources to help online and blended course designers, instructors, and program administrators meet their moral, ethical, and legal obligations to ensure all students have access to the educational opportunities provided for them in online and digital learning.

Access and Equity in Online Classes and Virtual Schools. This iNACOL Research Committee Issues Brief written by Ray Rose and Bob Blomeyer provides important information for understanding this important policy area.

Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-To-Face Education. This document from the iNACOL Promising Practices Series written by John Watson and Butch Gemin provides information and examples related to this rapidly growing area of online learning.

Examining Communication and Interaction in Online Teaching. The iNACOL Research Committee Issues brief provides information that is helpful for determining student interaction policies.

Funding and Policy Frameworks for Online Learning. This document from the iNACOL Promising Practices Series written by John Watson and Butch Gemin discusses the many factors that impact the policies and funding approaches for your online learning program.

Goals, Guidelines, and Standards for Student Scientific Investigations. This iNACOL publication written by Kemi and Jona & John Adsit provide guidance on how to design online science content so that the scientific inquiry process can be superior to what most students experience in a traditional science classroom.

Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning. This annual publication of the Evergreen Education Group provides the latest information on state-level policy and practice.

K-12 Online Learning: A Smart Investment NOW More than Ever. This 4 page iNACOL document provides a concise description of the need for virtual school opportunities with a focus on state and district policymakers.

Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update. This publication from Project Tomorrow is available for download from Blackboard provides a brief summary of the information the Project Tomorrow team has learned from its annual Speak-Up survey.

Management and Operations of Online Programs. This document from the iNACOL Promising Practices Series written by John Watson and Butch Gemin provide information about all aspects of online learning program operations.

National Standards for Quality Online Programs. Overarching quality standards for online learning programs as a whole.

National Standards for Quality Online Teaching. Quality standards addressing online teaching and instructional design.

National Standards of Quality for Online Courses. Quality standards specific to online course content.

Online Teacher Support Programs: Mentoring and Coaching Models. This iNACOL publication provide information about how to provide support for your online teachers.

Performance-Based Funding and Online Learning: Maximizing Resources for Student Success. This report explores performance-based funding in online learning programs. Performance-based funding is a school finance model that links funding for public education programs with measurable student performance outcomes.

Professional Development for Virtual Schooling and Online Learning. This iNACOL Research Committee Issues Brief by Niki Davis and Ray Rose provides useful information for professional development policies.

Sorting through Online Learning Options: A Guide for Parents. This 2 page iNACOL document identifies questions your parents might be asking. This information may be particularly useful for marketing efforts and establishing the structures/qualities necessary for a quality program.

20/20 Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools. This document written by Augenblick, Palaich, & Associates for the BellSouth Foundation provides information about factors that impact the cost of state virtual schools and full-time online learning programs.

Using Online Learning for At-Risk Students and Credit Recovery. This document from the iNACOL Promising Practices Series written by John Watson and Butch Gemin provides information and examples for this specific audience of students.


For the most part, the definitions below have been taken from most recent draft of an iNACOL project to provide definitions for a large number of online learning terms. In some cases we found other terms that we thought would benefit from a clear definition and developed our own definition for those items.

Advanced Placement: An Advanced Placement course is a college-level course taught in the high school context following a syllabus aligned with the College Board Advanced Placement test for that course.1

Agrarian calendar: The traditional school calendar in the United States which was organized around the needs of farmers resulting in school not being in session during the late spring, summer, and early fall.

Asynchronous communication: Communication that is separated by time. Examples are email, online discussion forums, message boards, blogs, podcasts, etc.

At-risk student: A term used in the literature to refer to students who have learning and behavioral disabilities and are unable to cope in the traditional classroom and to students who are lower performing academically.2

Attendance: Number of students actually present in a course or a school.

AUP (Acceptable Use Policy): A policy that outlines the responsibilities of students, teachers, staff, and others as they use the computers, software applications, and Internet when using the school or district computers or Internet connections. AUPs also outline the consequences for failure to adhere to this policy.

Blended course: A course that is offered in a blended format. See Blended learning.

Blended learning: is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or place.3

BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services): An intermediate education agency (IES) that provides school districts with educational services.

Brick and mortar schools: Refers to traditional school or traditional school building, as contrasted with an online school.

Charter school: A tax-supported school established by a legal charter between a granting body (such as a state or a local school board) and an outside group (such as parents, teachers, or other educators) which operates the school without many local and state educational regulations.

Content repository: A venue for saving and sharing content. A digital content repository is an online venue for saving and sharing digital content.

Course completion rate: The term is used in two ways: (1) The percentage of courses that are successfully completed by a student; or (2) the percentage of students who have successfully completed a single course. When determining successful completion using either definition, a program needs to include three components: (1) when the rate is calculated (i.e., before the drop period ends, after the drop period ends, after all students have completed the course); (2) the length of the drop period; (2) the length of the course itself, including whether it is fixed or flexible; and (3) the academic requirements associated with completion (i.e.,whether students need to pass an exam, or pass the course itself, to be considered as having completed it).

Course enrollment: The number of students formally in a course. For state schools, this figure is used to calculate a school’s share of state FTE funds. Enrollment figures need to specify when during the course the figure is calculated.

Course Management System (CMS): The technology platform through which online courses are offered. A CMS includes software for the creation and editing of course content, communication tools, assessment tools, and other features designed to enhance access and ease of use.”4

Course registration: See Course enrollment.

Course shell: The virtual container for an online course. Online course content items are placed here so that teachers and students enrolled into a course shell have access to the content.

Credit recovery: Refers to a student passing, and receiving credit for, a course that he/she previously attempted but did not succeed in earning academic credit towards graduation.

Cyber education: See Online learning.

Cyber school: See Online school.

Distance education: General term for any type of educational activity in which the participants are at a distance from each other–in other words, are separated in space. They may or may not be separated in time (asynchronous vs. synchronous).

Distance education course: Any course offered at a distance. See Distance education.

Distributed learning: Distributed learning is any learning that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different locations so that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place.

Drop out rate: The number of students who do not complete a course as a percentage of the number who enrolled.

e-Course: Any course offered over the Internet.

e-School: See Online school.

e-Teacher: See Online teacher.

Enrollment: See Course enrollment.

Face-to-face: When two or more people meet in person.

Filter (Browsers): Software that restricts access to designated websites.

For-profit company: A company that is incorporated under the law for the profit of its owners.

Full-time equivalent (FTE): The number of students at a given institution if every student were full time, based on the local definition of full time.

Full-time online instructor: Any course instructor who carries a full load, as defined locally, by contract or policy.

Full-time online program: A program that has all its courses available online.

Full-time online student: A student who takes all his/her courses over the Internet.

Grace Period: The drop/add period after the start of an online course when the student can drop the course without academic penalty. During this period, normally any course fees are either fully or partially refunded. A typical grace period for online learning programs is between two weeks and one month.

Highly qualified teacher: The current Federal definition of a highly qualified teacher is one who is fully certified and/or licensed by the state; holds at least a Bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution; and demonstrates competence in each core academic subject area in which he or she teaches.

Home schools/Home schooling: The education of children at home, typically by parents but sometimes by tutors, rather than in a formal setting of public or private school.5

Home-grown content: Content developed by a teacher, school, or district for use in instruction, as compared to content developed by outside companies or other vendors.

Hosting: A service provided by an organization where software applications such as a Learning Management System are located on the organizations computer and accessed remotely. As a result, the online learning program does not need to manage a computer server to operate the software.

Hybrid learning: Learning that combines two modes of instruction, online and face-to-face, but at different points in time.

Independent study: The formal study of a topic, generally chosen by the student, under the direction of a teacher.

Instructional designer: Someone who is trained in the principles of instructional design, as well as curriculum, and designs courses.

Learning Content Management System (LCMS): The technology platform that supports the work-flow processes associated with authoring and updating online content as well as managing content for online courses located in a Learning Management System (LMS).

Learning Management System (LMS): The technology platform through which online courses are offered. A LMS generally includes software for creating and editing course content, communication tools, assessment tools, and other features for managing the course.

Learning object: A resource that can be used and re-used in many different courses.

Learning Object Repository (LOR): A space for storing digital learning resources.6

Licensed content: Content whose use is restricted and only available with permission, generally for a fee.

Local Education Agency (LEA): In general this refers to a public school or school district. The term is formally defined in federal law and refers to the public authority legally constituted within a State for either administrative control or direction of, or to perform a service function for, public elementary schools or secondary schools.

Meta-data: Refers to “data about data”. In the context of online learning objects it is the data that provides additional information about the learning object such as a title, author, date last modified, subject area, grade level, etc.

Multi-district virtual high school: An online learning program administered by, and serving, multiple districts, often organized in a formal consortium.7 (Not to be confused with a district program that serves students from many districts.)

Non-profit organization: A legal entity incorporated in the state in which it expects to do business, organization formally organized as a not-for-profit in that any profits used in the operation of the organization.

Online course: Any course offered over the Internet.

Online course provider: An organization that provides online courses.

Online degree program: A program that offers a fully online degree, generally referring to higher education.

Online facilitator: An individual who facilitates an online course. May be considered an online teacher but may also be someone who does more guiding than teaching.

Online learning: Education in which instruction and content are delivered primarily over the Internet; online learning is a form of distance learning.8 The terms does not include printed-based correspondence education, broadcast television or radio, videocassettes, and stand-alone educational software programs that do not have a significant Internet-based instructional component.9 Used interchangeably with Virtual learning, Cyber learning, e-learning.

Online learning resources: Any digital material available for use in courses, both online and site-based.

Online professional development: Professional development delivered over the Internet, both to those teaching in site-based schools or those teaching online.

Online learning program: An organization that offers courses delivered primarily over the Internet but does not offer a diploma.

Online school: A formally constituted organization (public, private, state, charter, etc.) that offers full-time education delivered primarily over the Internet.

Online teacher: The person who is responsible for instruction in an online course.

Online teaching endorsement: Supplemental state licensing that certifies a teacher to teach online.

Online teaching reciprocity: The ability for a teacher considered qualified to teach online in one state to teach in another state without additional licensing or assessments.

Online tutor: Someone who helps individuals or groups, to better understand specific content. Tutors do not teach courses but support students.

Open Educational Resources (OER): Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research resources, in the public domain or, released under a license that permits free use or re-purposing by others (see creativecommons.org) at little or no cost. OERs include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, audio, text, software, tools, or techniques.10

Open source: Software products where the author(s) of the software agree to provide the source code for the software so others parties can contribute to the development of the software and/or modify it for their own use. The Open Source Initiative defines ten attributes that define open source software.

Pace/pacing: The speed with which a teacher or a student moves through a course.

Parent organization: An organization that has legal and management responsibility for another organization or program. For example, the parent organization of a district online learning program is the school district.

Part-time instructors: Instructors who do not teach a full course load. In higher education, these are often called adjunct instructors.

Part-time program: A program that allows students to take less than a full load of courses, as defined locally.

Part-time student: A student who does not take a full load of courses.

Quality standards: A set of benchmarks or indicators for courses, teaching, professional development, programs, etc., developed by a respected organization or association.

Regional Educational Service Agency: An agency, usually at the county level, that provides services and support to schools within its area.

Retention rate: The number of students who complete a course as a percentage of the number who enrolled and/or the number of students who complete an online learning program at the end of a semester or year as a percentage of the number who enrolled.

Rolling Enrollment: An enrollment practice in which a student may enter and exit an online course at any point. Some programs will not allow full rolling enrollments but will permit students to enter a course over an extended period of time.

Seat time: A measure of attendance in a brick-and-mortar school setting.

Section 508: The section of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that provides requirements regarding electronic and information technology being accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Self-paced: Courses where students work at their own pace, sometimes within a certain overall timeframe.

State virtual schools: A state virtual school is an entity created and supported by a state to provide online academic courses to elementary, middle, and high school students using qualified online teachers.

Student Information System (SIS): A software application used by schools to manage student data such as basic demographic data, course schedules, grade information, etc.

Student Interaction: There are four types of student interactions. For additional information, see Types of Interactivity.

Student-teacher ratio: The number of students each teacher is assigned to teach.

Supplemental Online Program: An online learning program that provides one or more online courses to a student while the student is still considered enrolled full-time in another school, most frequently his/her local public school.

Synchronous: Communication in which the participants interact in the same time space. Examples are telephone calls, videoconferencing, chat, and face-to-face communication.11

Teacher of record: The person who is formally responsible for grading students in a course.

Virtual class: A subunit of students working together.

Virtual education: See Online learning.

Virtual school: See Online school.

Voice-over-IP: The technology and protocols that allows for an audio conversation to occur through an Internet-connected device such as a computer instead of utilizing another communication mechanism such as the public telephone network.

W3 also W3C: An abbreviation for the World Wide Web Consortium, an international organization that works to develop standards for the World Wide Web. The organization is led by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. (See www.w3.org).

Web-based education: Any education offered over the Internet.

Web Conferencing System: A software system that allows for the creation of a virtual classroom or conference. Features in a web conferencing system include voice-over-IP, text chat, and a shared white board. Various commercial and open source web conferencing systems have additional features.

Webinar: A seminar conducted synchronously over the Internet.


The footnotes provided below are for citations related to items in the glossary.

1 Tamalpais Union High School District. (2004). Board Policy 6141.5. website: http://www.gamutonline.net/district/tamal/DisplayPolicy/186210/.

2 Barbour, M. K., Demaree, L., Mani, N., Saffron, M., Sumara, J., & Toker, S. (2008). Virtual schooling glossary and definitions. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University. Retrieved on August 30, 2010 from http://virtualschool.wikispaces.com/glossary

3 Staker, Heather. et. al. (2011). The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models. Innosight Institute.

4 Watson, John & Kalmon Stevan. (2005). Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State-Level Policy and Practice. Learning Point Associates.

5 Taken from definition of home schooling from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_school

6 e-Learning Ontario. (2007). Glossary of terms. Toronto, ON: Ministry of Education. Retrieved on February 28, 2008 from http://www.elearningontario.ca/eng/aboutus/glossary.aspx

7 Watson, John, Gemin, Butch, Ryan, Jennifer, and Wicks, Matthew. (2009). Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of State-Level Policy and Practice. Evergreen Education Group.

8 Ibid.

9 Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning. (2009). U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development.

10 Definition provided by the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education.

11 Watson, John & Kalmon Stevan. (2005). Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State-Level Policy and Practice. Learning Point Associates.