Where I went to college, there were dumb terminals hooked up to serial lines in various locations around campus. Students would take turns using them. (They're all gone now... everyone has their own computers and it's all WiFi and/or Ethernet now.)
When you logged in to any campus computer, the very first thing it would do was print a cryptic prompt: term? [vt100]
This was your one opportunity to correctly enter a terse code that described the terminal you happened to be using. Terminals were not cheap, and nobody was going to throw away old ones when new ones were bought, so the campus had a mix of terminal types. It would have been nice if there had been a universal standard way to interrogate a terminal to find out its type (some reserved escape sequence) but there wasn't, so it was up to you to enter it correctly.
So every terminal had a little slip of paper on it saying something like: TERMINAL TYPE: vt100
There was always a default, which you would get if you just hit the Enter key. I cheated in the above examples and put vt100 but I think the default was something else; VT-100 terminals were not actually common (I think I only ever saw one!). I no longer remember what was common, just whatever they happened to buy a lot of.
If you got it right, then the system used termcap to look up the capabilities of your terminal, and it would know how to use the cursor-movement features of your terminal. In short, you could run programs like vi and emacs. If you got it wrong, and then tried to run vi and emacs, your screen would become horrible hash quickly. What on one terminal would move the cursor around might be meaningless on another terminal or might have some different effect. (Imagine if the "move cursor to X,Y" command one one terminal was "clear to end of line from position X,Y" on another brand of terminal. That sort of wackiness.)
So the two bits of lore that every computer-using student at my college needed to know: how to correctly enter the terminal type, and how to fix it if you entered it incorrectly. (Best to just stop what you were trying to do and logout!)
But here's the punchline of the above lore:
Computer geeks like me used the terminals all the time. People who had to do statistics work also used them a lot, but some students rarely used them. For some students, the only times they used a terminal was once per quarter, to sign up for classes for the new quarter.
When I started at college, this was easy. You got a paper printed class catalog booklet, you would look up the course numbers of the courses you wanted to take, and from any terminal you would login to a special account. A program would run, reading standard input and writing standard output, and it would prompt you to enter your student ID number and the course numbers. After you entered each number, you would be prompted: Is this correct? yes/no and you would answer. Simple. I don't think it even bothered to prompt for terminal type, and even if it did, it didn't use it for anything.
But then some computer science grad students went ahead and improved the system. They added browsable menus. You could use the arrow keys to browse through, drill down, find your course and pick it. You didn't need a paper catalog of course numbers! But now you actually needed to enter the terminal type correctly. All the students who rarely used the terminals had no clue what term? [vt100] meant, and usually just hit Enter, and then they were hosed.
I'm sure now it's all web forms: no need to print paper booklets, and nobody has any serious problems using it. Not all the old ways were better.
P.S. The campus had a couple of ADM-3A terminals, and I used them from time to time if nothing better was available. They had no dedicated cursor arrow keys, but had arrows printed on H J K L pointing left, down, up, and right respectively; so you would hit Ctrl+H for left arrow and so on. As a vi user, I was pretty okay with that.
But there was one terminal that, annoyingly, had no Escape key! I thought it was the ADM-3A but Wikipedia shows an Esc key on the keyboard layout so it must have been something else. You had to hit Ctrl+[ to get an Esc, very annoying for vi. IIRC I rebound the back-tick character with :map! so I could hit that instead of typing Ctrl+[.