Just as knowledge has continued to impact lives and alter how humans live and think, so have the means through which humans prefer to acquire said knowledge. Over the years, globalization and world events (COVID-19 being a primary culprit) have made the learning process much more different than it was even as recent as 10 years ago. One of the emerging forms of acquiring knowledge in recent years is virtual learning.
You may have questions if you're an educator wishing to adopt new teaching and learning forms. How efficient is virtual learning? What are the types of virtual learning, and what platforms work best? How can I engage my classes online? This article answers these questions.
What is virtual learning?
Virtual learning refers to any study method via digital technology and the Internet. Many teachers or organizations use them to teach professional courses or train recruits.
Virtual learning can be synchronous, that is, in real time, with the teacher connecting with the student via a virtual classroom or live webinar. Or it could be asynchronous, pre-recorded for the student's convenience, or to accommodate those with learning disabilities. Some virtual student learning classes are hybrid and integrate students in physical courses with the teacher and others online. The significant difference is that while synchronous virtual learning is more supervised and delivered at the teacher's pace, asynchronous learning allows learners to consume the course at their preferred pace.
How efficient are online classes?
No matter the type of virtual learning involved, the big question is how effectively they foster the transmission of knowledge. The answer to this question boils down to the planning of the lessons, and in planning, you want to consider the following:
- The needs of students (for example, do they want certification, professional development, etc.)
- Your goals as a teacher.
- The goal of the organization you or your student work for or aspire to work with.
Different fields require different approaches and levels of supervision. Complicated, highly skilled courses require more attention and would work better with the synchronous model and vice versa. Either way, you want to prepare thoroughly. Gather materials beforehand, carefully check your technical equipment, and research the best digital learning platforms that support student success.
The platforms for virtual learning
There are several platforms you can use for online learning, but these platforms will often depend on the virtual lesson format you intend to use:
Virtual learning environment (VLE)
A Virtual Learning Environment is an online portal that provides course materials and educational content. They rarely ever give access to synchronous meetings. Some VLE platforms host materials, tests, assignments, and other instructional materials that the students can access within a specified period; they also facilitate online synchronous student/teacher classes. A famous example of a VLE platform in everyday use is the Google Classroom. Live webinars are also forms of VLE as they allow live synchronous meetings while providing an avenue to accept and give feedback to students.
Learning management system (LME)
LMEs are like VLEs but with one significant addition. An LME platform also allows the tutor to act as an administrator and document and analyze students' performances. Some modern LMEs equip school leaders with powerful algorithms that analyze student performance over time and, using such data, can identify training and learning gaps. The reports they generate will then be sent to the teacher or tutor, who will use the data when deciding on the focus of future learning.
An example of a good LME is the Blackboard Learn, which many tutors can use to create courses, assign learning groups, track students' progress over a period, and provide positive learning experiences.
Video engagement platform (VEP)
VEPs are virtual learning platforms that create learning opportunities by keeping students engaged during virtual classes. This emphasis on engaging students is usually an understated problem, given that many students of virtual courses are more likely to get distracted by their devices than learn.
Video Engagement Platforms try to combat this tendency by including features that encourage participation in the course of the class, such as screen sharing, chat boxes, polls, and digital whiteboards to keep the students alert. As teachers use this platform to teach, students can ask questions and receive answers almost instantly. They can screen share and receive feedback on what they're working on, thus making for a lively session while boosting student achievement. Moreover, the interactive features of these platforms also increase effective learning and teacher collaboration.
Preparing for a distance learning class
Whether you are new or experienced, the success of any virtual learning session will often rely on the level of preparedness of the tutor. If you're a teacher tasked with the responsibility of hosting a virtual class, here are some steps you can take to prepare for it:
Choose the learning format that will make students stay
You want to decide if synchronous or asynchronous learning is the best format for the course material. Or will a hybrid format best benefit you? It is often best to focus on tailoring your lessons to one format. If you decide on an asynchronous format, you want to arrange at least one live session to motivate your students and check their learning progress.
Choose an E-learning platform
Based on your chosen learning format, consider the virtual learning platform that would best suit your interest. You also want to consider the following:
- Comparability with your available technology.
- Integration with other tools and platforms.
- Cost and scalability.
- User-friendliness or navigational ease.
- Customizable options and flexibility.
- Analytics and reporting capabilities.
All these factors can impact your virtual lessons if not adequately considered.
Create a knowledge base
Before your first live class or the launch of the pre-recorded sessions, you want to create a virtual knowledge base. In this library-like unit, your students can access educational materials and other information like videos, quizzes, eBooks, etc.
Set the learning objectives
You want to set objectives or goals to direct how you proceed with the class. These objectives will influence what you add and what you leave out. After this, you want to present them to your students before the class so they can focus on what they should look forward to gaining from the class.
Arrange your interactive webinar content
You want to ensure that all materials are available and presented in an understandable, easy-to-follow manner, from simple concepts to complicated ones. Include a brief recap of related material before commencing the lesson. Gather visuals, plan activities for student participation, and, most importantly, ensure your materials are current.
Assess students immediately
You want to ensure you give your students some activity they would submit for assessment. It could be a report, quiz, assignment, or presentation. No matter the form, ensure you have something that you can use to measure just how much the students have learned during the just-concluded lessons.
Some educational practices to accelerate participation in online learning webinar series
The common problem with virtual classes is getting them to be more engaging and not run riot. Here are some strategies you can use before, during, and after the classes:
Before the free webinar class
Before the class, you aim to ensure a conducive virtual environment and establish ground rules that guide the rest of the class. Here are some tips and practical strategies for helping students stay engaged in the work.
- Encourage students to find a quiet place or use headphones to avoid noise.
- Ask everyone to use videos to share effective feedback so it feels more natural.
- Mute students to eliminate background chatter.
- Playing soft music in the background as students log in.
- Use fun icebreakers to set the mood for the class; this could be anything from team-building exercises to something as simple as putting aside time for introductions.
During the free webinars
You aim to ensure the lessons are presented seamlessly and keep the students engaged. You can do this by:
- Use screen sharing and chat functions to encourage student participation.
- Initiate breaks when the classes begin running for too long.
- Have Check-in sessions where students tell you how they're assimilating the lessons or any other matter bothering them.
- Occasionally, take polls concerning what you're saying. You can get more engagement when you make a deliberately controversial statement that sparks debate and gets them involved.
After the professional learning class
Once the class is over, your goal would shift to ensuring that students are comfortable with how the class went and handling any related issues. Here are some things you can do:
- Ask for feedback once the class ends to know the best place to focus on in future lessons.
- Give assessable assignments so you can gauge the student's assimilation level. Ensure you grade each paper and report back to the students.
- Stay for as long as 30 minutes after the end of the class to pick up on any lingering questions. You can also use this time to offer immediate support to any learner who needs it but is too shy to say so during class.
- Host small breakout rooms to serve as a classroom community where students can feel comfortable discussing the lessons and having a collaborative learning experience.
Virtual classes are a new and efficient way of disseminating knowledge in the modern world, and you can do it either in live, synchronous format or using a pre-recorded, asynchronous method. Each virtual learning format tends to have certain types of platforms they align with, so you want to be savvy enough to consider this while planning your lessons.
Ultimately, the success or failure of virtual learning will come down to how well you prepared your material and the effort you're willing to take to encourage student participation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best software for making educational videos?
Cloudpresenter.com is a best webinar platform for creating educational videos, offering a user-friendly platform with robust features for recording, editing, and sharing content. Its intuitive interface and comprehensive toolset make it a top pick for educators and content creators.
How do you organize a virtual classroom?
Set a clear schedule, share materials online, and use tools like Cloudpresenter or learning management systems for effective communication and organization in the virtual classroom.
Are virtual classrooms the future of learning?
Virtual classrooms are an integral part of the future of learning, offering flexibility, accessibility, and interactive features that cater to evolving educational needs.