Virtual learning (also known as eLearning) has come a long way over the last decade. eLearning tools have sophisticated new features such as AI (artificial intelligence) tutors, gamification, social learning, and augmented reality. All of that sounds great, but there has to be a downside to virtual learning...right?
We’ll answer that question as we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning below.
Virtual learning (also called “eLearning”) refers to educational or training courses that take place in a virtual learning environment. Students use a computer to connect to an online program or software and receive instruction. Virtual learning can be either asynchronous (self-paced) or synchronous (live), with the latter involving the use of video conferencing software between students and teachers.
While typically thought of as a remote learning experience that takes place outside of the physical classroom, virtual learning can also happen inside of a classroom (e.g., high school students attending a dual credit course from their school’s campus). With this in mind, today we’re only taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of virtual learning in a remote context.
The three biggest benefits of virtual learning are access to analytics via eLearning tools, flexibility for students, and cost savings for both students and organizations. We’ll cover each of these in more detail below.
Virtual learning requires digital tools—most frequently, a learning management system (LMS). Many learning management systems are equipped with analytics and reporting features that help you keep track of the metrics you need to make informed decisions. These metrics can be specific to learners including their activity in the system, subject matter competency, and progress through a course. They can also be related to the courses themselves such as average time spent or completion rate.
Having access to these figures helps you develop an understanding of learners’ needs. For instance, you can compare learner success between different methods of instruction or subject matter presentation and make adjustments that improve the quality of your course.
Virtual learning gives students flexibility when it comes to where and when they complete their education. Students can log in from anywhere to participate in an online class. This means that learners aren’t bound to a geographical area. Location freedom opens courses up to students from all over the country (or even from other countries), which then leads to a more diverse group of learners.
In the case of asynchronous learning, students can also log in whenever they want. This allows students to access learning material at a time that’s best for them—an especially important benefit for learners who are balancing their course load with a job or a caretaker role.
In another context, corporations can use the flexibility of virtual learning to provide training to employees in different locations. This not only saves businesses time and money, but also improves consistency in training as employees will access the same course material, no matter their location.
Going virtual is more affordable for both students and educators. Opting for a virtual learning environment negates the need for a physical space, which can add up to significant cost savings. For example, some of the costs that could be avoided include real estate or rent, utilities, janitorial services, office equipment, and rented parking spaces. Some sources estimate that corporations can reduce expenses from 50% to 70% when they opt for eLearning methods.
On the other side of the coin, virtual learning is much more affordable for students than a traditional learning experience. Students attending college at a traditional educational institution face expenses such as meal plans, text books, transportation, and dormitory costs. Not to mention a typically higher tuition cost that accounts for amenities on campus.
There are a few drawbacks to keep in mind when it comes to embracing virtual learning. The biggest three include technology hurdles, learner isolation, and lower student engagement. We’ll explain each of these and explain how you can alleviate them.
Virtual courses rely heavily on technology. Although we’re living in an increasingly connected world, technology has its weaknesses. An inconsistent internet connection, software bugs, and outdated or damaged hardware can all disrupt the learning process. Though some of these challenges are easier to assuage than others, there are measures you can take so that learners don’t feel discouraged.
Create a plan of action for students to follow before your course is live. Share that plan with learners at the beginning of the course. Your plan should include an email address that students can contact in case of a technical issue, as well as some resources they can turn to to troubleshoot. Remain flexible with your students if a problem arises.
Students create a community in a traditional classroom setting. They connect and learn from each other, which is hard to replicate virtually. Remote learning can lead to students feeling isolated, especially if they are social distancing in addition to taking classes virtually.
Incorporate activities into your course that require learners to interact with each other. If you are leading a synchronous course, you can ask students to turn their webcams on so they can see each other or encourage discussions in virtual breakout rooms. For asynchronous courses, ask learners to communicate with each other on an online forum or take a virtual field trip (who wants to see the Louvre?).
One challenge of virtual learning is that there is an increased responsibility on the learner to manage their focus and time spent on course material. It’s easy to get distracted when the internet is at your fingertips. On top of that, every learner is different; some prefer visual learning, while others retain information through auditory or kinesthetic learning methods. Presenting subject matter in a content format that doesn’t fit students’ learning style can impede their engagement and knowledge retention.
To improve engagement, you can incorporate a variety of content formats in your course to make sure you’re catering to each type of learner and opt for activities and discussions over lectures.
If you’re excited about the prospect of taking your in-person course online, keep that momentum going by learning more about how to create a successful virtual learning experience.
You can also visit our learning management systems software directory and read our buyers guide, which includes information about the different types of LMS tools available, their features, and current eLearning trends.