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Virtual School Glossary

Virtual School Glossary

by Mark Sivy


During my dissertation writing process last year, I noted several terms associated with virtual schools that needed clear descriptions. The following terms are defined within the context of the study:

At-a-Distance – interaction between individuals occurring over a geographic or time separation, usually technology mediated.

Digital – technology that uses discrete values (binary code) to transmit and process data.

Distance Education – the use of teaching methods and media (whether audio, visual or digital technology) to produce learning when instructors and students are not physically present in the same location at the same time.

Distributed Leadership – at-a-distance leadership that is shared among multiple individuals.

Educational Technology – technology for teaching, learning, and academic support purposes. This can include instructional development and deployment, communication, visualization and social media technology.

E-Learning – electronically supported and mediated teaching and learning, usually being computer or web-based. It is not synonymous with online learning, which is rather a subset of e-learning.

Full-time Program – these virtual school programs provide courses to student who are enrolled primarily or only in the virtual school.

Home School – the physical school at which a student is an enrolled member. Associated with students who are usually taking one or two courses through a virtual school.

Instructional Technology – refers to the use of specific technologies that facilitate instruction.

Leader – an individual who inspires or influences an individual or group of individuals to accomplish common goals and tasks.

Online – a state of connectivity that exists via the Internet and that is accessed through a digital processor-based technology such as a computer or mobile device.

Online School Program – a program that provides supplemental courses to students who are enrolled full-time in a traditional school.

Online Education –a major subgroup of distance education that uses the Internet for teaching and learning.

Personalized Virtual Learning – developing curriculum and instruction for a virtual school that enables learners to progress at their own pace, within limitations and as gauged by mastery of learning objectives.

State-led Virtual Schools – virtual schools that are authorized by a state-level governing body that often structures the school, determines policy, and provides a financial model.

Technology-facilitated – using technology in a manner to help bring about a desired outcome.

Traditional School (brick and mortar school) – a school housed and operated within a physically constructed space.

Virtual – an existence or extension of existence that is created, simulated, presented, or experienced using interconnected computers via networks and related technologies.

Virtual Education – teaching and learning that occurs through interconnected computers via networks and related technologies.

Virtual School (cyber school, fully online charter school) – an educational organization that entirely offers its courses and services for students who are at-a-distance via the Internet using web-based content, tools and methods.

Web-based – that which uses the attributes and resources of the World Wide Web.

World Wide Web – the global system of interlinked hypertext documents that are accessed through the Internet and viewed using a web browser.


One of the greatest issues I’ve found during my recent career experiences and education is the great variety of uses and definitions of common terminology associated with online / virtual education. This can be a challenge in the United States, and is be even more of an issue internationally. With this awareness, misunderstandings can be kept to a minimum.

There are many other terms and phrases associated with virtual schooling. Additional resources for these can be found at:

Reflection Point – “You must learn to talk clearly. The jargon of scientific terminology which rolls off your tongues is mental garbage.”     ~Martin H Fischer