California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

Glossary of Terms
Related to Online Education

*Asterisked entries were adapted largely or wholly from John Watson,The State of Online Learning in California: A Look at Current K-12 Policies and Practices (PDF, Outside Source), Santa Cruz, CA: University of California College Prep, 2006, 47.

Accreditation: Both the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) review high school programs according to organizational standards. Schools that meet the standards are awarded official authorization or certification.

Assistive Technology: Assistive technology, as defined in law (The Technology Related Assistance Act of 1988 [P.L. 101-407] and the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 [P.L. 105-394]), is “…any item, piece of equipment, or product, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”

Associated with: In the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs, “associated with” indicates whether the online option is sponsored or provided by a school district, county office of education, charter school, or private organization.

Asynchronous: In online education, the term “asynchronous” means teacher-student interaction that does not occur at the same time. Asynchronous communication is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing students and teachers to participate according to their own schedules. Communication and interaction can take place via e-mail, Web sites, online discussion forums, message boards, blogs, podcasts, texting, or other electronic means.1 Asynchronous programs also may incorporate synchronous (real-time) communication using, for example, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and Web conferencing programs. For purposes of the Online Classroom Pilot Program (now sunsetted), California Education Code Section 51705(a) defines “asynchronous interactive instructional program,” as “a program in which a pupil and teacher interact using online resources, including, but not limited to, discussion boards, Web sites, and e-mail. However, the pupil and teacher need not necessarily be online at the same time.”

Average daily attendance (ADA)*: ADA is the aggregate number of days of attendance of all students during a reporting period divided by the number of days school was actually taught during the reporting period. In California, funding to local educational agencies is based on ADA calculated using one of two attendance accounting methods—independent study or classroom-based attendance.2


Bandwidth: Usually measured in bits per second, or "bps", bandwidth refers to how much data you can send through a network or modem connection. More bandwidth means faster transfer of information within a given amount of time.

Blended learning: Also called hybrid learning, courses delivered via blended learning provide a combination of online delivery and supervised face-to-face sessions at a physical location away from home. In blended learning, students have some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of the online portion of their education.3 Some schools offer students a blended program with a portion of their courses online and the other courses taught in the classroom or through regular independent study.

CDS code: The County-District-School (CDS) code ( system is an administrative convenience designed to provide the California Department of Education (CDE), the California Department of Finance, and postsecondary institutions with a basis for tracking schools. This 14-digit code is the official, unique identification of a school within California. The first two digits identify the county, the next five digits identify the school district, and the last seven digits identify the school. Each public and private school in California has a CDS code.

Computer-based instruction (CBI): Instruction presented on a computer without direct instruction from a teacher is called CBI. CBI typically provides automated interactive features and immediate feedback, letting students know whether their answer is correct and providing another lesson when answers are incorrect. CBI can be incorporated as one element of an online course. However, CBI alone, without direct interaction between the student and the teacher of the online course, does not meet the definition of online education.

Course management system: Refer to the Learning Management System (LMS).

Curriculum: The prescribed course of study for a school or district is called the curriculum.

Cyber school: Refer to Full-time online school.

Delivery: Delivery options for online content may include asynchronous, synchronous, or blended learning (also known as hybrid learning).

Digital content*: Subject matter developed and delivered via computer technology is called the digital content. It may be created by a company, school district, group of teachers, or an individual. Digital content may be copyrighted, issued a Creative Commons ( (Outside Source) license, or placed openly on the Internet, free for all to use via Open Educational Resources (OER) ( (Outside Source).

Distance learning*: As defined by California Education Code (EC) Section 51865, distance learning is “instruction in which the pupil and instructor are in different locations and interact through the use of computer and communications technology.”

e-Learning*: Instruction and content delivered via digital technologies (such as online or CD-ROM) or learning experiences that involve the use of computers are often called
e-Learning. Since most e-Learning today is in the form of online education, some people use “e-Learning” interchangeably with online education.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): The federal ESEA Act requires that all kindergarten through grade twelve public school teachers demonstrate subject area competence in all core academic subjects they teach. ESEA-compliant teachers are also referred to as Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT).4

Full-time online school*: Also called cyber school or virtual school, a full-time online school is one that offers all courses primarily over the Internet. Students enroll and earn credit toward academic advancement (or graduation) based on successful completion of courses in the school’s online education program. Full-time online public schools are responsible for their students’ scores on state assessments, which is the primary way student outcomes and school performance are measured. Refer also to Virtual or online charter school.

Highly Qualified Teacher: Refer to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Hybrid learning: Refer to Blended learning.

Independent Study5: In California, “independent study” refers to an alternative instructional strategy that enables students to work independently according to a written agreement and under the general supervision of a credentialed teacher. ADA funding is generated based on the teacher’s determination of the time value of completed student work.6

Learning Management System (LMS): Also called course management system (CMS), an LMS is the technology platform through which online courses are offered. An LMS includes software for creating and editing course content, communication tools, instructional tools, grade books, assessment tools, and other features designed to enhance access and ease of use. Examples include ATutor, Blackboard, Desire2Learn, CaliQity, Moodle, and others.

Local educational agency (LEA): A school district, county office of education, or direct-funded charter school is called an LEA.

National Collegiate Athletic Association: ( (NCAA). The NCAA reviews high school programs to ensure integrity in academics, finances, diversity and inclusion, and the student-athlete experience. Only schools that meet NCAA standards are certified to allow their students to play competitively in Division 1 or 2 (divisions are based on school enrollment size).

Online education: A common definition of online education is “Teacher-led education that takes place over the Internet, with the teacher and student separated geographically.7 Students have direct interaction with the teacher of the course using electronic means, and an LMS is used to provide a structured learning environment. Online education can be fully online (either synchronous or asynchronous) or blended (online instruction combined with classroom-based instruction). Online education is one form of distance learning. The term does not include stand-alone CBI programs that do not have direct interaction between the course instructor and the students. Online education is synonymous with online learning, virtual learning, digital learning, or cyber learning. Since most e-Learning today is in the form of online education, some people use “e-Learning” interchangeably with online education.

Open-entry, open-exit enrollment: A practice in which a student may enter and exit an online course at any point is known as open-entry enrollment. Some programs may have one or more windows of time for open-entry registration.

Open source: The term open source means that downloads are free and users have access to the source code of the software. Users can see how the software functions, but more importantly, they can modify the code to customize the software to fit their needs. Open source also allows the code to be shared with others, who might also modify it—including writing new features to improve performance.

Programs: For purposes of the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs, the term “program” indicates the focus of the curriculum or target population served. Program types include credit recovery, Honors, Advanced Placement, world languages, college preparation, independent study, college and community college concurrent enrollment, and others.

Registration*: The term “registration” refers to the process in which a single student signs up to take a course in an online program. (Registration is distinguished from enrollment, which means that a student is counted by a school toward the school’s share of state ADA funds.)

Self-paced: Courses in which students work at their own pace. These courses are sometimes within a specified overall timeframe.

Seat time*: The actual physical presence of a student in a brick-and-mortar school setting is another term for classroom-based attendance, or ADA, as provided by
EC Section 46300(a).

Substantial online presence: Institutions listed in the California Directory of Online Schools and Programs must have a substantial online presence which, for purposes of the Directory, means that at least 30 percent of instruction at the school or program is delivered online.

Supplemental online program*: An “online program that enrolls students in individual courses as opposed to a full course of study. The online course provides a supplement to the face-to-face or independent study courses taken by the student at his or her ‘regular’ school.”8 In California, credit for successful completion of the supplemental courses is awarded by the school in which each student is enrolled.

Synchronous: The term “synchronous” refers to events that occur at the same time. In synchronous online programs, students and the teacher are online at the same time for class sessions and “use real-time Internet-based collaborative software that combines audio, video, file share, and other forms of interaction.”9 Synchronous programs may also use asynchronous means of communication outside of class sessions.

Threaded discussion/online discussion forum *: A chronological listing of students’ and teacher’s comments is known as a threaded discussion. Responses are linked to participants’ names. The threaded discussion forum replicates a classroom discussion in an online course.

UC a-g: University of California (UC) a-g
( (Outside Source) refers to the subject requirements (history/social science, English, mathematics, etc.) for the high school courses students must take to meet UC/California State University admissions requirements. Schools or programs that offer courses meeting UC a-g requirements may be found in the University of California a-g Course Lists ( (Outside Source).

Virtual school: Refer to Full-time online school.

Virtual or online charter school: In California, a virtual or online charter school is one “in which at least 80 percent of teaching and student interaction occurs via the Internet.”10

WASC: The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredit public and private schools to certify that those schools have adequately prepared students to attend college. WASC-accredited schools may be found in the WASC Accrediting Commission for Schools Search Directory ( (Outside Source).


1Adapted from John Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning (PDF, Outside Source). (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2007), 32.
2California Education Code sections 51747.5 and 46300(a).
3Heather Staker, The Rise of K–12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models (Outside Source) (Innosight Institute, 2011), 5.
4For further information refer to the California Department of Education’s NCLB Teacher Requirements Resource Guide, 2007.
5California Education Code Section 51745.
6California Education Code Section 51747.5(b).
7John Watson and others, Keeping Pace with K–12 Online Learning (PDF, Outside Source) (Evergreen, CO: Evergreen Education Group, 2010), 13.
8Adapted from Matthew Wicks, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, Version 2 (PDF, Outside Source). (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2010), 12.
9John Watson, A National Primer on K-12 Online Learnings (PDF, Outside Source). (Vienna, VA: International Association for K–12 Online Learning, 2007), 33.
10California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 11963.5.

graphic of CDE online education






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