Virtual learning (VL) is an education paradigm that aims to improve a student’s academic performance, enable education access and cost-effectiveness using computer software and the internet (Beek, 2011). Another definition of the term is learning that occurs outside the traditional school environment such as a class. The virtual learning environment (VLE) structure involves two parties (the teacher and the student) using technology as a medium to connect them both. In such a scenario, the teacher and student do not need to be in the same place at the same time. Virtual learning is important, as it not only enhances communication but also it is not time-driven and has global reach. VL can be in five different forms, which include computer-based, blended learning, virtual learning, internet-based and remote online learning.
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VL has many advantages that benefit not only the student but also the teacher. Despite its capabilities of sharing secure content in learning podcast videos, it also establishes a resource hub, which is a link for many educational sources. The tools allow teachers to share educational materials while enabling students to track their academic progress (Armstrong, 2013). The new dimension of learning is an improvement, as it assists the education sector to achieve its mission and goals.
The use of VLE has been popular over the years as a survey conducted in the year 2009 indicates that online learning accommodates 30% of all students enrolled (Beek, 2011). The increased popularity of VLE tools is due to factors such as the advancement, affordability and accessibility of technology, increase in the number of educational courses available online, desire for the education system to have a broader curriculum and the presence/future shortages of teachers in the education sector. These factors ensure the use of VLE inside and outside the classroom is both effective and scalable (Armstrong, 2013).
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The virtual learning environment uses different tools but it must incorporate three, which are lecture captures, webinars and interactive web conferencing. Lecture capture systems records a teacher’s presentation. The recorded presentation undergoes editing, creating a reusable digital video system. It can also be in a live stream audio or visual format. The use of such systems allows students to view the lectures remotely at their own time. The tool has one advantage, which is convenience, as it allows a student to access the lecture any time and study at his or her own pace. The tool also benefits the teacher, as he or she can pre-record the lectures and release them on schedule. The only challenge is access, as majority of the lectures have a link that the teacher shares with the students in class. The students then use the link to access the lecture (EdTech Staff, 2012).
Webinars involve PowerPoint slideshows accompanied with audio explanations. The tool is interactive and convenient, as students can view it for the first time and record for later viewing. The features of the tool make it possible for a teacher to focus on important educational topics. The tool is advantageous; it engages the students listening and reading capabilities, as the teachers accompanies the presentation with detailed explanation. In addition, it also uses other available and affordable tools such as a smartphone, which can create the voiceovers. The challenge with the tool is that the viewer has to have high-speed internet to access it.
Web conferencing is an internet-based VLE tool, which uses the internet to create two-way communication channel between two or more parties over a long distance. The basic scenario of the environment involves the teacher creating an online presence known as tele-presence, enabling him or her to chat with the students over a lecture. There are many advantages of using the tool such as a teacher can deliver one lecture to multiple classrooms at the same time. It also solves geographic challenges, allowing two parties to communicate despite geographical separation. However, it does have one disadvantage where each party has to install the software application and a fast internet connection to create the two-way communication channel (EdTech Staff, 2012).
These three compulsory tools allow the VLE to be accessible and effective. The environment can also consist of other supporting tools such as Turnitin, Rubistar and classroom 2.0 and many more. Turnitin is a platform that evaluates and improves a student’s writing with the aim of reducing plagiarism. It is similar to another tool called grammarily, which checks a student’s grammar. Rubistar software primarily assists teachers to create teaching and grading rubics for various courses. Classroom 2.0 is a social network platform where students can meet, share ideas and resources with each other. Other examples of VL tools are such as E-Learning council, DML Hub, eLearning brothers, Prezi and ClickClass (Hart, 2017).
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The tools create a VLE structure, allowing it to take up different shapes and formats, as the type of tools deployed will depend on the course’s content and the type of audience the lecture aims to reach. Overall, with the continued advancement of technology in the education sector, virtual learning will give many students better learning opportunities, making it the best alternative to traditional learning methods and become the future of education.
- Armstrong, S. (2013). What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Online Learning? Elearning Industry. Retrieved on 27/1/2018. Available at https://elearningindustry.com/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-online-learning
- Beek, M. (2011). What id Virtual Learning? Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved on 27/1/2018. Available at https://www.mackinac.org/14475
- EdTech (2012).Three Tools Every Virtual-Learning Environment Needs. EdTech. Retrieved on 27/1/2018. Available at https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2012/04/three-tools-every-virtual-learning-environment-needs
- Hart, A. (2017). Top Tool for Online Teaching. Top5OnlineColleges.org. Retrieved on 27/1/2018. Available at https://top5onlinecolleges.org/teaching-tools/