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Enrolling in an academic program used to mean sitting in a classroom on campus while a professor lectured to a room filled with students. A student’s physical attendance was required for classes, and degree programs followed the semester or trimester course model, which required years of hard work for a student to complete a degree. 

But nowadays, students have more options regarding higher education. Technology has made online learning a viable option for many adult learners seeking non-traditional academic programs. 

A non-traditional program is generally designed for students with a few extra responsibilities on their plate, including full-time jobs or raising children. Non-traditional academic programs utilize various methods, including blended learning and accelerated timeframes to help students finish their programs efficiently and quickly. 

If you’re considering enrolling in a non-traditional academic program, you’ll need to be familiar with the terminology used by college officials. We’ve assembled a glossary of terms to help you decode information used when describing your non-traditional program of choice.

Glossary of Terms 


Accelerated learning programs require students to grasp academic concepts quickly, as they progress through content on a speedy timeline. Students in non-traditional programs may encounter accelerated courses or degree programs throughout their academic journey.


ACCUPLACER is a series of tests that evaluate a student’s preparedness for college-level courses. Using computer-adaptive technology, students are tested on their skills in three areas: mathematics, reading, and writing.

Asynchronous learning

Students enrolled in online courses may have the option to complete assignments through an asynchronous learning model. Asynchronous courses are self-paced, allowing students to learn on their own schedule through the use of self-guided lesson modules and discussion board conversations.

Blended learning

Academic programs that utilize both online and in-person components are referred to as blended learning. Also known as hybrid programs, blended learning programs provide the student with the flexibility to complete some coursework remotely while also partially attending traditional in-person classes.

Certificate program

Certificate programs are narrow in focus, and provide students with professional skills that can be applied to their jobs immediately. Certificate programs tend to be less expensive than graduate degree programs, and can be completed faster — as they require less credits for completion. 

Course management system

A course management system refers to the software needed to foster a centralized online learning environment. Course materials such as syllabi, discussion boards, and assignments will reside in a course management system for online courses.

Dual enrollment

Dual enrollment applies to students who are enrolled in two academic degree programs or institutions simultaneously. Also known as concurrent enrollment, students must be admitted to each program separately before achieving dual enrollment status.

Executive education

Academic graduate programs geared toward working professionals looking to advance their careers are often known as executive education programs. These programs can be broad, like an Executive MBA, or industry specific.


Similar to blended learning, hybrid learning programs contain a mixture of online and face-to-face class components.

Prior learning credit

Some academic programs will award college credit to students for professional experience or technical knowledge, a transaction known as prior learning credit. Students with significant work experience and military servicemembers are common recipients of prior learning credit. Prior learning credit saves you time and money by applying previously acquired skills to a degree program.

Remote proctoring

Remote proctoring allows a student to take an exam from a remote location without compromising the integrity of the exam. Remote proctors are trained to use methods, including video monitoring, to verify the identity of the student and prevent cheating during the exam. 

Standardized testing

A standardized test requires all students to answer the same questions in a controlled testing environment. Credit by exam programs like CLEP and DSST in addition to entrance exams like the GMAT and NCLEX all fall under the standardized test umbrella.

Transfer articulation

The process of comparing course content between a required course and a previously completed course is known as transfer articulation. College officials will evaluate the curriculum and learning targets of the transfer course to evaluate whether the student has satisfied the requirements of the curriculum.

Vocational education

Vocational education programs provide students with technical knowledge needed to excel in a designated career path. Examples of vocational fields include healthcare (pharmacy technicians, nursing aides), emergency medical technicians (parademics), cosmetologists, and electricians.

Need help finding the right degree program for you? Check out Peterson’s College Discovery Center for our top picks in categories like accelerated degree programs, business schools, and more.