What Is A Virtual Classroom And Why Is It The Future Of Online Learning?

What Is Virtual Classroom And Why Does It Matter?
Summary: A brief explanation of how eLearning platforms can leverage the virtual classroom experience by creating a virtual hub that enables students, teachers, tutors, and trainers to connect in real time over online customizable virtual classroom software.

Virtual Classrooms 101: Meaning, Use, And Advantage

Imagine this: a working professional also happens to be a part-time student. They study at their home desk or favorite coffee shop, attend classes in a virtual classroom and have meetings with their mentor using the best virtual meeting tools. At the end of their course, they get a certification of academic accomplishment without having traveled to their university overseas or, indeed, having met any of their classmates and mentors offline.

This is the world of distance learning.

Distance learning allows students to pursue academics while working a job or carrying out their personal schedules. It facilitates learning from home without the additional costs of accommodation and travel. This is done through the use of virtual meeting platforms and virtual conference software that mimic face-to-face interactions, albeit digitally. Today, 85% of surveyed online students said that they found distance learning the same as or even better than traditional classroom-based courses (source). The global online education market is also projected to reach US$350 billion by 2025 (World Economic Forum).

These courses are more accommodative without compromising on the delivery and impact of education. While distance learning is conducted online, many traditional aspects of academic learning have only metamorphosed into a digital version to suit the demands of distance learning. The virtual classroom is one such feature.

What A Virtual Classroom Is And Why It Matters

Today’s virtual classrooms are online spaces that share some features of brick-and-mortar classrooms but different in other ways.

A virtual classroom environment ensures human connection, a vital element of classroom teaching that video-on-demand courses don’t have and sorely miss. In a virtual classroom, teachers interact with students in real time; students can voice their questions and interact with peers similar to how they would in a regular classroom, albeit over the internet.

An additional perk of virtual classrooms is that they are scalable to accommodate a larger number of students. Physical classrooms often limit seating to a maximum number so that students can sit comfortably and have enough space to themselves. By contrast, virtual classrooms use virtual meeting solutions that have a higher cap on numbers, allowing more students to attend interesting classes at once. This enables better and higher participation rates and ensures knowledge is that much more accessible.

Like brick-and-mortar classrooms, virtual classrooms are also synchronous as learners and teachers appear online at the same time to facilitate immediate interactions. However, virtual classrooms also make use of pre-recorded components such as videos, presentations, and lecture slides to facilitate learning, much like offline classrooms do.

A virtual classroom includes the following features:

  • Video conferencing: using the best web conferencing software to facilitate learner-teacher-learner communication
  • Digital whiteboards: offering real-time demonstrations and diagrams
  • Instant messaging: allowing typed conversations on lower bandwidths
  • Participation controls: enabling students to participate in discussions, mute their surroundings or virtually “raise” their hands
  • Sub-chats: breakout rooms to facilitate collaboration between learners
  • Video recording: to save live lectures as video-on-demand for later reference
  • End-to-end encryption: to ensure virtual classroom access is restricted to authorized learners

Types Of Virtual Classrooms That Are Learner-Friendly

Virtual classrooms can be tweaked depending on the use required of them. They may feature as an add-on in a course or form the backbone of an entire course; either way, virtual classrooms are highly customizable.

  • Enriched virtual type
    In this type, the majority of the course is carried out online, save for a few offline components to augment lessons and curricula. These components are most popularly in the form of face-to-face meetings with instructors or collaborative meetings with fellow learners over a critical assignment or thesis.
  • Rotation type
    Often used as part of the flipped classroom technique, rotation involves using both virtual and offline classrooms on rotation according to a schedule. In many cases, primary learning happens online, while in-person meetings happen for reinforcement and review.
  • Fully online type
    As the name suggests, a fully online classroom doesn’t require or allow for face-to-face offline interactions. These course types could be synchronous or asynchronous in that they use pre-recorded videos and minimal live interaction through online meeting software.
  • Flexible type
    In this type, the virtual classroom remains open and available for students to access at times convenient to them. Otherwise, learning is encouraged through small groups, with the virtual classroom forming a place to return to in case of questions.
  • Mix-and-match type
    As the name suggests, this model allows students to select a method that works best for them, such that they gain maximum knowledge. It is a combination of digital teaching models and can either be student-led or institution-governed.

Why Virtual Classrooms Are Important For Democratizing Learning

Virtual classrooms level the playing field of education, allowing students from all over the world to access interesting classrooms regardless of where they live or work. Virtual classrooms can supplement existing education structures or be used as the main structure for imparting knowledge.

Virtual classrooms promote inclusive and democratic learning, and also help reduce the costs of highly coveted educational courses and certifications. And, seeing as how traditional classrooms have closed down across the world for the foreseeable future, virtual classrooms and online virtual meeting platforms ensure education continues albeit online and at home.

We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”– David Warlick

Advantages Of Virtual Classrooms Over Brick-And-Mortar Setups 

  • High interactivity
    An effective virtual classroom is one that makes use of multiple communication channels, such as online virtual meeting software, chat rooms, messaging, voice calls, and conferencing options. This is so that learners with varying preferences are all able to benefit equally.
  • Collaborative education
    Digital whiteboards, file sharing, virtual meeting applications, and chats facilitate collaborative learning between students. This mimics the real-time atmosphere of classrooms without having to meet physically; it also reinforces materials learned so that knowledge retention is higher.
  • Student-focused teaching
    Virtual classrooms focus on students and their real-time education, unlike pre-recorded videos which are highly teacher-centric. Students can ask questions, clarify concepts, and discuss topics in real time.
  • Range of content types
    Virtual classrooms make use of a range of media types to present knowledge such that a variety of student abilities and learning styles are catered to. These include videos, presentations, SlideShare, animations, digital whiteboards, and webinars.
  • Comfortable learning space
    Virtual classrooms make learning online feel much less robotic. Human interaction is critical to the success of an education system; virtual classrooms ensure learners are able to interact and chat with peers and teachers without compromise.

What To Look Out For In A Virtual Classroom To Facilitate Better Learning

Virtual classrooms and the best virtual meeting software have essential features and those that are nice to have. The former is a necessity, so here’s what to look out for:

  • Real-time instant messaging
    Every virtual classroom must have messaging features to accommodate lower bandwidths without destroying the potential for communication. Learners need to be able to chat with their instructors and peers and clarify small doubts that don’t need video or voice calls.
  • High-quality video chat
    This option perpetuates the feeling of human connection and ensures students are paid attention to. It can be implemented through a handy video conferencing app for iOS and Android.
  • Video streaming
    This feature is essential for classrooms hosting hundreds of students from all over the world. Some virtual meeting solutions for enterprise are intended for smaller groups; a virtual classroom needs a much more powerful solution such as video streaming.
  • Secure file sharing
    An integrated two-way sharing system is critical for virtual classrooms. It allows for seamless collaboration and facilitates the sharing of assignments, reports, and projects on one single platform within the learning environment.
  • Digital whiteboard
    Digital whiteboards facilitate content display, marking, annotations, and more vivid explanations. These can also be used by students who are presenting a project or a thesis to their class or an instructor. Digital whiteboards are best suited for touchscreen devices.
  • Third-party integration
    Some virtual classrooms may need to be augmented with additional features because not even the best video conferencing software has it all. Seamless third-party integration allows knowledge providers to leverage the existing system and expand its use for students’ benefits.
  • Student groups
    A separate group for students allows for bonding over academic and non-academic subjects, which is a key feature of traditional classrooms. They foster friendship and a collective appreciation; they also double up as a breakout room to discuss classes, topics, and interesting concepts.

The Final Word

“The future will be about pairing the Artificial Intelligence of computers with the cognitive, social, and emotional capabilities of humans so that we educate first-class humans, not second-class robots.”OECD

Distance learning is gaining speed because of the current global crisis and changing demands in education. Technology is a major factor both driving and being included in this change; the models of developing and delivering content are becoming more nuanced, engaged, and personalized.

Virtual classrooms facilitate cross-border learning in a world where learning isn’t restricted to brick-and-mortar buildings, but out in the world. The virtual classroom is another transformative tool in a digital educator’s arsenal and will continue to rise in popularity and use.