Take Advantage Of The Virtual Classroom’s Major Advantage

Virtual classrooms provide crucial opportunities for social interaction and inclusion.

Digital learning content is increasingly popular in organizational learning as it improves access to learning and allows for flexibility in time and place. We commonly discuss two broad categories of eLearning—synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous eLearning happens in real time, where participants and one or more instructors meet virtually at the same time from different places. One of the most commonly used technologies deployed for synchronous learning is the virtual classroom (VC). Synchronous sessions may be recorded, which makes them useful for people who cannot attend, but recorded sessions are unlikely to include ways to interact with others.

Asynchronous eLearning is self-paced. Learners can access online content, such as online audio and video, and self-paced online courses at the time and place of their choosing.

It may seem that self-paced eLearning has a major advantage over synchronous eLearning because it preserves both time and place flexibility. But synchronous learning has a major advantage that makes it critical to consider when designing technology-mediated instruction: opportunities for social interaction.

Interaction and Inclusion

Certain types of interaction made possible by the VC—participant-to-participant interaction and participant-to-expert/ presenter/instructor interaction—are beneficial to learning and understanding. Well-designed VC instruction, aided by live communication using VC tools (such as text chat, audio chat, and polls), makes these interactions possible.

Michael G. Moore explains how interactions can help participants deeply process what they are learning. Deep processing is a precursor for application. For example, sharing insights with other participants allows for different points of view, varying contexts, valuable resources, and more. These interactions improve interest and effort and have been found to be key to learning outcomes. Good instructors model skills and attitudes, nudge participants to think deeply and apply what they are learning, correct mistakes and misconceptions, and offer feedback (so important!).

Technical Barriers

Teaching and learning in the VC is mediated by technology. Technology can assist in teaching and learning, but it also adds potential problems. Common technical issues include:

  • Lack of preparation for use
  • Trouble using the platform, tools, and interface
  • Bandwidth and connection difficulties
  • Need for added equipment (such as a USB headset)

VC participants require good setup and login instructions and access to technical support days—not minutes—before the session. To reduce technical difficulties, research says we should:

  • Keep the interface as uncomplicated and consistent as possible.
  • Train participants and instructors in good use.
  • Ask people to login early and show how-to-use slides as they do so.
  • Build in extra time to allow for preparation and startup.

The most prepared instructors are those who are paranoid that everything will go wrong! We need a plan b and plan c. For example, because of the real potential that the instructor’s computer can lose connection to the Internet in the middle of the VC session, it may be necessary to have a second computer or device connected to a WiFi or MiFi hotspot. This allows the instructor to keep working, or at least alert participants that he or she is making a fix and will be right back.

Understanding the barriers and leveraging the advantages of an instructional medium is critical. For VC sessions, always ask yourself, “Could learners have the same experience viewing this as a prerecorded lecture?” If so, don’t bother to present it live.

References cited in this article: https://www.pattishank.com/references

Patti Shank, Ph.D., is a learning expert, researcher, author, and facilitator who is listed as one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in eLearning internationally.

Karen Hyder has been teaching about technology using technology since 1991. She helped launch The eLearningGuild Online Forums and was a driving force behind the creation of CompTIA’s Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) certification for online trainers. She currently coaches on how to design and deliver blended training programs for Hearing First.