Updated April 1, 2019
Author’s note: This is an update to our December 2013 post, “Characteristics of a Virtual Classroom.” Read the original post following our 2019 update.
What does the virtual classroom look like in 2019?
The rate of technological progress has brought the field of online education a long way since our original article. While the characteristics we discussed remain relevant, more have come to the fore. Here are the top characteristics of a virtual classroom that we would add to our list in 2019.
Even a few years ago, having a mobile-optimized virtual classroom wouldn’t have been a requirement. But times have changed, and if your learners can’t access your course from their mobile devices, both of you are missing out. Mobile accessibility allows your learners greater flexibility in where and how they learn—and that benefits you as much as them, because it means they have more opportunities to engage with your materials.
This applies across your learning environment. Whereas in the past, your learners might have viewed forums as places for long-form discussion, now they’re more likely to treat them like an extension of their messaging app. Audio lessons are consumed like podcasts, and mini quizzes are micro games that can be played during a lunch break.
Virtual learners are working with each other more than ever before. They’re chatting in your forums, teaming up on group projects, and competing for high scores on your leaderboard. In some cases, these experiences are the new defining feature of online courses. Learners have come to view them less as digital transpositions of physical classrooms, and more as places where they build relationships with fellow learners over shared interests.
One of the defining characteristics distinguishing virtual learning environments from typical classrooms is the flexibility of the way lessons are delivered. In traditional learning, learners sit in a classroom, listening to a lecture and taking notes. But online classrooms give learners greater freedom to engage with the material creatively—and for the course content to adapt and respond based on their inputs.
Gamified lessons, flipped classrooms, and scenario learning are all examples of how virtual classrooms have grown increasingly interactive. And given the success of these techniques, we expect to see newer technologies embrace them even more.
In the past, we’ve talked about both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous learning. Traditional learning tends to by synchronous, meaning the learners and instructors need to be in the same place (such as a classroom) for the lesson to take place. Asynchronous communication means the instructor can post a lesson at one time, and learners can complete it whenever it is most convenient for their schedule.
However, there’s no reason a virtual classroom can’t offer a live lesson (via a chatroom or conference call), and in many cases, incorporating live learning into a lesson plan can increase the value of the course, motivate learners, and help them feel engaged. That’s why today’s virtual classrooms are moving away from a strictly asynchronous format and incorporating real-time group sessions and private tutoring as well.
Innovation is the hallmark of online learning—for both learners and instructors. Virtual classrooms offer new ways for educators to deliver inspiring, engrossing, and effective learning content. In turn, learners interact with lessons in new ways, showing what works and what doesn’t in the field of online education.
In the coming years, we expect the virtual classroom to expand to include more AI and VR.
As the virtual classroom continues to expand, we expect to see more innovation in emerging technologies. At the forefront are Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality. While these technologies are still finding their footing, they’re on their way and will find countless applications across learning platforms in the years to come.
For now, instructors should stay alert. Each new advancement offers possibilities for educators to improve their course, but not every innovation is destined for success. Finding the right solutions for your course—and your learners—will require trial and error. In the meantime, remember that even as an educator, there’s always more to learn.
The following is the original article, published 12 December, 2013
The ed tech landscape is full of various buzzwords that sometimes it can be hard to really grasp the concepts that are being discussed. For example, one popular movement today being used in the education industry is the virtual classroom, but what exactly does this mean?
The idea itself is not that hard to conceptualize, but often the characteristics regarding a virtual classroom are not discussed.
Below are some of the key components of a virtual classroom. I am sure that this could be expanded upon further, but for the sake of simplicity I have only included what I believe are the most defining ones.
A virtual classroom is an online classroom that allows participants to communicate with one another, view presentations or videos, interact with other participants, and engage with resources in work groups.
A virtual classroom allows both learners and instructors around the world to participate in live classes to collaborate and interact. MOOC programs like Coursera are a great example of this concept in action.
The low costs of virtual classrooms are considered to be a major advantage. Learners can save money by not having to worry about travel expenses. Participants also save time since all that is needed is an internet connection.
Online classes also allow for the ability to record class as it happens, including any presentation audio and visuals. This means that the content is accessible even after being delivered, an added benefit for those who want a quick refresher, or perhaps did not fully understand the first time.
Practical and Proven
Synchronous learning is a learning environment where everyone takes part in the learning at the same time. A traditional lecture is an example of this type of learning, and has been used for hundreds of years. Online learning enables this same type of experience, but with far more conveniences and tools.
Virtual classrooms can be used to deliver lectures, or even tutorials online. They are also great options for impromptu meetings and group projects where members need to check-in on progress and bounce ideas of one-another. With the virtual environment, ideas and collaborators are never far away.
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