A virtual classroom provides a more flexible approach to learning that accommodates the balance of work, study, and personal life. A recent survey by McKinsey, which included over 7,000 learners from 17 countries, found that 65% of learners prefer to maintain some elements of their learning experience online due to flexibility and convenience.
Educators and learners can connect in real-time through learning management systems (LMS) such as Moodle to establish an engaging learning environment that seamlessly addresses both asynchronous and synchronous learning requirements.
In this article, we’ll explore a virtual classroom’s role, advantages, structure and how platforms like Moodle can create the ideal virtual learning environment through its inherent features and plugins.
Understanding virtual classrooms
A virtual classroom is a digital learning space where educators and learners engage in education and training from different locations. Virtual classrooms effectively combine synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning.
In a synchronous mode where learning occurs in real-time, virtual classrooms mirror the dynamics of a traditional classroom through live video lectures, discussions, and immediate engagement. Whereas in asynchronous learning, which doesn’t require learners to be online simultaneously, a virtual classroom provides a flexible digital space where learners access pre-recorded content, engage in discussions, and submit assignments at their own pace.
This dual facet of virtual classrooms integrates the benefits of live interaction and self-paced learning, making education adaptable and accessible to a wide range of learners.
Integrating tools in a virtual education setting
Virtual classrooms are used in a wide range of educational contexts, including K-12, higher education, professional development, and lifelong learning.
They incorporate features like real-time audio and video capabilities, screen sharing, public and private chat functions, sharing presentations and videos, collaborative whiteboards to enhance communication, and teacher engagement tools such as polls, emojis, as well as a ‘raised hands’ icon that provides a way for students to communicate to the teacher when they have a question. Virtual classrooms also offer breakout rooms to facilitate group collaboration.
The benefits of virtual classrooms
Using a virtual classroom provides numerous benefits for both educators and learners, some of which include:
- Flexibility: They make learning easier from anywhere at any time, enabling students to create adaptable schedules that suit their needs.
- Accessibility: Virtual classrooms break down barriers, making education accessible to individuals who may not be able to attend traditional classrooms due to physical, geographical, or other barriers.
- LMS integration: Seamlessly integrating with an LMS, virtual classrooms enhance learner engagement by providing a cohesive environment where learners and educators can interact. Educators can customise, launch, and manage recordings within their LMS.
- Customisation: They provide personalised learning experiences catering to individual learner requirements and preferences.
- Collaboration: They also promote connections among individuals from diverse backgrounds and geographical locations.
A structured approach to effective learning
According to the McKinsey report, learners prefer a virtual classroom to have at least these three functions – the availability of recorded classes for later review, easy access to online study materials, and the flexibility to balance work and study. To meet these expectations, an ideal structure of a virtual classroom should serve a dual purpose: to assist educators in delivering focused, organised instructions and to enable learners to engage with complex learning concepts actively.
The latter enhances the possibilities of active learning, which is far more effective than passive learning. Consequently, the structure of a practical virtual class is strategically designed to optimise the time allocated for applied learning and feedback.
Unlike a video conference, which may just be one long meeting, an effective virtual class has four distinct segments, each contributing to learning online:
- Strengthening relationships: Virtual classrooms are an opportunity for educators to establish a connection with their students, setting a welcoming and inclusive tone. Educators can encourage introductions, share their background, and create a sense of community.
- Review material with learners: Within this interactive phase, educators can periodically review key concepts and material covered in previous sessions. This helps students build upon their existing knowledge. It ensures everyone is on the same page before delving into new content.
- Break the content into bite-sized chunks: As students transition into hands-on activities, educators can break down complex topics into manageable, bite-sized pieces. This approach helps learners retain information better, as they can focus on one concept at a time, master it, and then progress to the next segment.
- Summarise and recall key concepts: Educators can utilise the final 10 minutes of the class to summarise key takeaways from the sessions, review the core concepts, and encourage discussions among learners. Reviewing what was learned in the lesson helps students consolidate their learning and prepares them for future sessions.
For more details on the structure of effective virtual classes, see the course Delivering Effective Virtual Classrooms in Moodle Academy.
An opportunity for applied learning
Virtual classrooms offer an excellent opportunity to apply learning in a practical setting. This approach promotes critical thinking and problem-solving skills and a safe and comfortable learning environment accessible from anywhere.
They also offer a range of features that make online education interactive. Some of them are:
- Chat rooms: Enable students to ask questions and engage in discussion.
- Polling: Provides a formative assessment to gauge student learning and adjust teaching accordingly.
- Breakout rooms: Nurture collaboration and peer learning through small group discussions and activities.
These features help build a sense of community within the virtual classroom.
Choosing the right platform
When choosing a platform to host your virtual classroom, there are several key factors:
- User-friendly interface: Ensure ease of use for both educators and students.
- Comprehensive functionality: Look for features such as interactive whiteboards, video conferencing, screen sharing, file sharing, and messaging capabilities.
- Customisation and integration: Choose a platform that allows branding and seamless integration with other tools to meet specific requirements.
- Robust security: Prioritise data security and access control measures to protect sensitive information.
- Scalability and support: Ensure the platform can easily accommodate changes in user numbers, courses, and features and seek reliable technical support for smooth virtual classroom sessions.
Moodle Certified Integrations for virtual classrooms
Moodle Certified Integrations such as BigBlueButton and Tutoom significantly enhance the virtual classroom experience within the Moodle platform. BigBlueButton, as an open-source virtual classroom solution, equips educators with pedagogical tools like breakout rooms and polling to engage students actively in applied learning. Seamlessly integrated into Moodle, it offers valuable insights through a live Learning Analytics Dashboard.
Similarly, Tutoom serves as an all-in-one digital classroom, accommodating diverse educational levels with features like video conferencing, whiteboarding, document sharing, and interactive quizzes. It promotes teacher-student communication, progress monitoring, and collaborative learning, making it a versatile tool for educators seeking to create engaging and interactive virtual classrooms.