The rapid progress in technology has changed a wide number of aspects in human lives. The effect of this change is getting more apparent each day. The education sector is one of the areas that had received a significant impact on such progress in the form of information technology. And it’s become such that without information technology education and learning today is quite a difficult task.
Thus, came about the advent of virtual classrooms, a private online space. Virtual classrooms do not require a physical presence in the classroom and students can take classes in terms of geographical distribution where information can easily be exchanged through the internet. Many of the activities that take place in virtual classrooms, are similar to traditional classroom programs but the nature in which such activities are performed, are different. In virtual classrooms, Students can have access to a vast amount of educational content at any time day in a variety of formats (text, video, audio).
The Need for Virtual Classrooms
Times have changed drastically over the course of 10-15 years. This change has brought about a much different perspective in various aspects of human life. Technology has grown to certain degree even becoming easily accessible to all. It was only a matter of time before classrooms and lectures experienced the effects of it. With time and convenience becoming a major factor in people’s lives, the very ideation of virtual classrooms has become a necessity especially with those seeking cheaper educational facilities that are otherwise unavailable.
The idea of a virtual Classroom isn’t that difficult to conceptualize but the very things that make up the ecosystem aren’t always discussed. There are quite a few components that help understanding the concept of virtual classrooms better:
With the advent and rise of internet technology, people can now share content at breakneck speeds. Instead of having to go all the way to a library and find your favorite book, you could have someone send you a virtual edition of the same. Sharing documents is one of the most commonly used features in a virtual classroom experience. It follows a trainer sharing documents and study material to students in the form of PDFs, PowerPoint Presentations and so on.
What makes this unique is that some programs have privilege settings that give the participants free control over viewing these shared documents. This means that they could move to a different slide than the one everyone else is viewing. Other programs give you control over whether or not participants can print the shared document to name a few. This allows for classrooms to stay in “sync” for most of the part.
The idea of chatting enables one to communicate on a real time basis with others with the virtual space. Sometimes, these facilities can be both private based in a virtual classroom sphere or even private. This allows for more engagement in a live virtual classroom in that the trainer can invite participants to send feedback, ask questions, and make comments during the program. The chat window can be a running commentary throughout the session.
This brings a different dimension as there is a sense of interaction similar to that of a traditional classroom.
A virtual whiteboard is similar to a classroom whiteboard. It’s a blank screen that can be typed, written, or drawn upon using various annotation tools if need be. The idea behind whiteboards in a virtual classroom is to create brainstorming sessions that invite active participation among the students.
It provides more of a collaborative classroom experience for both learners and lecturers. Messages can be made on a common whiteboard and shared in real time among all present with the virtual classroom space. This is useful as the information presented on this board can be erased and rewritten much like a normal whiteboard allowing for more interactive sessions.
4. Presentational Functions
The presentation function allows creating a presentation for the class. This allows for entire lessons or chapters to be thought over time. The function usually comes in two modes. The first mode is lecturer mode where the lecturer can fully control the presentation and learners can see the same frame simultaneously.
The second mode is learner mode where the learner can navigate the presentation by using next and back buttons in order to view the presentation. They are however, not allowed to control the presentation that the lecturer has corresponded.
Another dynamic to the virtual classroom space. It allows for both lecturers and learners to communicate with the help of audio and visual aids. This allows for more advanced sessions to be conducted. Video and audio tutorials can be used to communicate ideas more efficiently as compared to basic presentations.
The idea of interaction also changes as group discussions can take place through voice chats. The lecturer can communicate ideas and have learners respond through real time within the space of the lesson.
Methods in Virtual Education
There is no doubt that the internet brings a very different notion and perception as to how we educate ourselves. But the methods in which these are made possible can vary. There are usually two methods to consider here:
1. Synchronous Learning
This is the most recognized method one would consider in terms of being associated with a virtual classroom. In this way, the learners and teachers communicate with each other directly during the learning process. These processes bring human interaction into the virtual classroom through facial expressions, vocal intonations, hand gesticulation, and real-time discussion in the form of chats, videos and audio conference.
2. Asynchronous Learning
While the idea to learn may be the same, the method differs from the previous. With this method, students can participate at any point in time through the internet in the learning experience. This does not necessarily mean within a virtual classroom space, but being able to access learning based assets through the ecosystem. For instance, being able to access video tutorials, documents within a specified folder having been created by the lecturer.
Virtual vs Traditional
While many still consider more conventional or rather traditional methods in terms of education, it’s hard to just brush aside the differences between the two approaches
||Learning times are flexible in terms of a virtual classroom. Lectures can be conducted at any point in time from any part of the world.
||Learning times are always fixed and therefore, students are to study at the same time.
||There isn’t a real designated place for learning to happen. Instead, the learning process takes place in a virtual space on the internet.
||There is a designated place common to all students. They must be present physically for a collective learning process.
||The process can be both synchronous and asynchronous. The learning process is therefore customized for every individual learner.
||The learning process is more collective in nature. All students learn the same thing.
The growing need for information at one’s convenience continues and technology facilitates it. And with technology bound to get better and better, the benefits of a virtual classroom will only seek to grow.
A virtual classroom allows both learners and instructors around the world to participate in live classes to collaborate and interact. There are no restrictions in terms of interactions and access to information
While studying in a designated classroom the traditional way can prove to be costly, a virtual classroom experience is cost effective in comparison. 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 and so on. Participants also save time since all that is needed is an internet connection.
3. A Flexible Experience
As mentioned previously, the virtual classroom experience is more flexible in nature in terms of its learning process. Students have the liberty to record their sessions for later references. 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.
4. Ease of Accessibility
Virtual classrooms can be used to deliver lectures and tutorials online. They are also useful 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.
The Challenge: A Matter of Security
As with any internet database, a virtual classroom faces similar challenges and threats with regards to security. Like other internet based systems, virtual classrooms face threats such as penetration from external sources. In spite of data authentication and encryption codes, cyber-crimes cannot be entirely prevented.
Another issue could be in the form of synchronous classes. While it’s one thing to have a full attendance, it may be difficult to determine if the person behind the system is true to the registered identity. One may never be able to fully understand how to bypass such issues. Measures have been taken such as biometric methods, but these challenges will still remain.
Virtual Learning in Numbers
1. The global eLearning Market has reached approx. $107 billion at the end of 2015.
2. Large companies are the main purchasers of eLearning products and services and make up roughly 30% of all eLearning buyers.
3. The worldwide market for Mobile Learning products reached $5.3 billion back in 2012. It crossed 8.7 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach 12.2 billion by 2017.
4. Currently, up to approx. 77% of companies based in the US use online corporate training to improve employee development.
5. This online training is expected to grow by roughly 13% in the year 2017.
6. The growth rates of eLearning adopters is quite significant with the leaders being India, China and Malaysia.
Conclusion: A Big Future
With the advances and changes in technology, comes a huge change in lifestyle. Electronic education has seen a steady growth which only seems to get more significant as time passes by. If the statistics are any indication, the future of eLearning and virtual classrooms will only play a bigger role in the educational sector.