Basic online learning terms you should know

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Not knowing what certain technical terms mean can be frustrating. It also makes it hard to follow instructions especially if you’re in an online class. If this describes you, don’t worry! Here’s a cheat sheet of basic terms you might come across and what they mean:

Things you’ll need to start:


This is your computer, tablet, or other electronic devices. It can also include your monitor and the accessories that come with your computer, like a mouse. Generally, hardware refers to the physical parts of a computer or its internal parts, for example the motherboard.


Software refers to programs we use to create or communicate. They contain instructions that tell the computer what to do. There are two types: System software controls the computer’s internal functioning, and Application software are programs that process data for the user. Your Windows operating system is an example of a system software, while Microsoft Word is an example of an application software.

Operating System

This is the program that manages a computer’s resources. Common types of operating systems (or OS) used today are Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS, and Linux. You might also be familiar with Android OS or IOS (Apple) for smartphones.


Currently, the most common browsers are Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Firefox. Those using Apple computers and devices might prefer Safari. Browsers are software that retrieve and display webpages on the internet.

Search engines

The most common search engine is Google but there are others like Bing, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo Search and others. Search engines are websites that look for answers in a collection of information (or other websites) on the internet.


It tells you how quickly data travels through your internet connection at any given time. You can see it expressed as Mbps or megabits per second. Some online courses specify the bandwidth you need to have in order to join. This is because internet speed determines the types of activities you can do and how many devices you can connect at once. To know your internet bandwidth, you use free speed tests online like Speedtest by Ookla.


App is short for application. As mentioned above, application software are programs that process data for the user. It does a specific task. This term can be used for programs that run on your desktop but nowadays, it mostly refers to those on mobile devices. Examples are messaging apps like Whatsapp, social media apps like Snapchat, or directional apps like Google Maps.

Video Conferencing Tools

Skype and Zoom are examples of videoconferencing tools. These programs allow you to communicate in real-time using the internet.

Things you need to do:


Means to scan information on the internet or a webpage.


Using your mouse to quickly browse up or down a webpage.


Copying information from one computer system to your computer.


This means downloading (or copying) files needed to run a program on your computer.


Usually means connect to the internet. It can also mean gaining a contact on a social media platform, for example accepting a friend request on Facebook or an invite on LinkedIn. In this sense, once you connect to a person, you will be able to see their social media posts, react to them, or send them a message.


Providing others a copy of a document, link to a document or website using various online means. You can share information to others by using email, messaging apps, or social media. In video conferencing, you may be asked to share your screen when presenting (especially when you’re using a Powerpoint presentation). You’ll need to click on a button that says “share your screen.”


It means turning off your microphone in a Skype, Zoom or any other videoconferencing session. This is done to lessen background noise when someone is talking or presenting. You can mute yourself by clicking on the audio or microphone icon (clicking it again will unmute you).


Bookmarking makes it easier to go back to a website that you like or use often. Most browsers will have this function near the bar where you see the website address. You can bookmark a webpage by clicking on the star on the right-hand side of the bar on your Google or Microsoft Edge browser.


This means turning off your computer then restarting it. This is done to make your computer run smoothly, especially if you are encountering glitches. You may also be directed to reboot or restart right after installing a program. This helps update the operating system so that it will be able to run the new program.

Have you encountered other terms used in your online class that stumped you? Let us know!
Sources:; 20 computer terms you should know, Simon Kewin, Daily Writing Tips; and Technopedia.

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Community Resources

You can learn more computer terms here: 30 Computer terms every beginner should know.

Need more basic guides? Digital Unite has easy to read Technology Guides on their page. Reception House Waterloo Region also has videos on Digital Literacy in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Rohingya, Somali, and Tigrinya (information from of Marco Campana on KM4S).

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