Virtual classroom technologies – An important part of a digital learning ecosystem

With remote learners participating in digital learning in greater numbers all the time, it is more important than ever to consider the needs of our learners and the way we deliver education in a digital environment. Technologies for delivering self-paced or asynchronous learning, such as a Learning Management System (LMS) are a vital part of a digital learning ecosystem.

However, there are a lot of educational situations where you and your learners would benefit from participating in a virtual learning session, much as you would benefit from participating in a face-to-face classroom lesson.

This is where a virtual classroom comes in, allowing you to engage in synchronous, interactive learning with your learners much as you would in a face-to-face classroom environment. Utilising an appropriate virtual classroom technology can become a crucial tool in replicating – as close as possible – to a face-to-face classroom lesson in a digital environment and is an essential part of any robust digital learning ecosystem.

WHAT IS A VIRTUAL CLASSROOM?

A virtual classroom is a synchronous online learning environment, allowing teachers and learners to communicate, collaborate and interact remotely, in real-time.

FEATURES OF A VIRTUAL CLASSROOM

Each virtual classroom solution will vary in terms of features and user experience but there are a number of standard features that will appear across most virtual classroom solutions.

VIDEO
Live video streaming with one or more feeds.
AUDIO
Headset and/or phone-based communication.
PRESENTATION
Presentations and
screen sharing.
WHITEBOARD
Collaborative virtual whiteboard.
POLLING
Live classroom polling.
BREAKOUTS
Virtual breakout spaces for group-based
activities.
CHAT
Text-based real-time conversations.
NOTE-TAKING
The ability for centralised note-taking.
RECORDING
Record live sessions for later playback.

COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES VS. VIRTUAL CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGIES

Often digital communication technologies and virtual classroom technologies are seen as the same thing. A communication tool such as a web conferencing or collaboration tool shares some features of a virtual classroom, and are often readily at hand within an organisation, so are sometimes considered as an appropriate alternative to virtual classroom technologies. However, an appropriate virtual classroom technology will contain additional functionalities that communication technologies will not (ie. the ability to split off into breakout rooms for group activities and collaboration, or the ability to create multiple room layouts that you can switch between on-demand).

The other fundamental consideration around virtual classroom technologies vs. standard communication technologies is that a virtual classroom technology has been designed and developed with education and the needs of learners and educators front of mind. The tools, functionality, interface, etc. have all been developed with education requirements as a priority. However, in contrast, utilising a standard communication tool often requires workarounds and extra adjustments to make it fit the needs of educators.

That is not to say standard communication technologies cannot or should not be used for learning. Like all technologies, there is a time and a place for these technologies, as there is a time and a place for a virtual classroom. The important thing is to determine when and where to use each technology, and that while they may share similarities, they are two different technology types and a communication technology should not be put in place as a replacement for a virtual classroom technology.

BENEFITS

The items below outline a few of the benefits in the utilisation of virtual classroom technologies to learners, educators and organisations.

REMOTE LEARNING
Provides equality in learning across geographically dispersed locations. Learners are able to upskill while remaining part of their local communities, with opportunities to study while working.
RECORD CLASSES
Ability to record interactive sessions, so learners unable to attend still have opportunity to review learning materials.
PEER LEARNING
Virtual peer learning sessions and a collaborative space for group-based assignments.
TECHNOLOGY UPSKILLING
Utilising a virtual classroom as part of a wider digital offering, learners have the opportunity to upskill in both their area of study and technology, creating increased employability.
JUST IN TIME TRAINING AND SUPPORT
Ability to provide just in time training opportunities for learners, interactive group and one on one training and the ability for educators to hold virtual office hours.
CONTEMPORARY AND COMMERCIALLY SUSTAINABLE APPROACHES
Provides educators with the opportunity to follow contemporary learning approaches (eg. flipped classroom) while being commercially sustainable (reduced travel requirements for staff and learners).

WHAT IF I’M READY TO IMPLEMENT A VIRTUAL CLASSROOM TECHNOLOGY, WHERE DO I
START?

Like all technologies, virtual classroom technologies will differ depending on the solution selected, so ensure appropriate evaluation and selection projects are undertaken before implementing a solution.

Any future virtual classroom project should ensure any system introduced adequately supports organisational requirements and is aligned with business objectives. The list below provides recommended technology evaluation and project implementation stages.

  1. Technology evaluation – Formation of stakeholder and end-user working groups and formal virtual classroom evaluation against organisational requirements.
  2. Vendor briefing, scope definition and procurement – Work with vendor on scoping business requirements for the recommended solution. Obtain formal quotation and complete procurement processes.
  3. Business case and formal recommendations – Business case development and recommendations to the organisation.
  4. System design and development – Work with vendor to design and implement an optimum technology solution.
  5. LMS integration, test and soft launch – Work with vendor on deep integration with LMS. Complete detailed quality assurance testing. Pilot with select learner/user groups.
  6. Deployment – Provide training to staff and learners prior to formal system launch.

The number one recommendation in relation to any learning technology project would be to recognise where you may need to bring in external expertise. We don’t know what we don’t know and if you don’t feel comfortable with the level of understanding and expertise around implementing a virtual classroom (or other learning technology) project, bring in an external consultant who does. They will be able to advise you on technology options based on your specific organisational needs, point out and potential problem areas and be the conduit between your organisation and any external vendors, translating any technical jargon and ensuring the solution will truly meet your needs.

A virtual classroom is an important part of any digital learning ecosystem and should be considered by any organisation serious about providing quality education and support to its learners.

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.
Catherine Duncan
blank

Catherine Duncan

Catherine is a learning technologies and digital education practitioner with over twelve years experience across a variety of industries. She enjoys using her technical, educational and creative knowledge to assist organisations in determining their technical and/or training requirements and assisting them in finding the optimum solution.

2 thoughts on “Virtual classroom technologies – An important part of a digital learning ecosystem

  • 20th September 2019 at 11:04 am
    Permalink

    Fantastic post Catherine !
    I just happen to be carrying out a Bended Learning Capability Review with a large tertiary provider – and you gave me another thing to think about ! 😉
    Stu

    Reply
    • 20th September 2019 at 11:44 am
      Permalink

      That is my main goal to get people thinking about things or reminding them or areas they haven’t considered in awhile. Glad it gave you something to think about.

Add a reply or comment...