Computers, the Internet, and the digitalization of almost everything is changing the way learners learn and teachers teach. There is now such a thing as virtual learning? What exactly does that mean?

According to Vedamo, virtual learning is a learning experience that is enhanced through utilizing computers and/or the internet both outside and inside the facilities of the educational organization. Most of the time, learning takes place in a virtual or online environment.

Here are a few characteristics of Virtual Learning according to Vedamo:

  1. Remote access to an unlimited array of educational services (topics and tutors) offered worldwide.
  2. Individualized learning process that takes into consideration the personal level of competence, individual needs, and different learning styles.
  3. Safe and secure learning environment.
  4. Flexible learning in terms of time, location, and pace.
  5. Cost-effectiveness, time-effective, and easily scalable.

Virtual learning can come in two broad forms:

1. Online Learning
This is any form of learning that takes place on the Internet. It includes Internet-based instruction; remote teacher online instruction; and blended learning. It does not, however, include computer-based learning.

2. Full time Online
This is learning that does not involve face-to-face instruction. It is Internet-based and remote teacher online learning only.

Let’s define these learning scenario types further:

1. Computer-Based
Instruction is provided by software installed on a local computer or server.

2. Internet-based
The software that provides the instruction is delivered through the Web and stored on a remote server.

3. Remote Teacher Online
The teacher interacts with the student via the Internet, videos, online forums, e-mail, and instant messaging. There is no face-to-face instruction.

4. Blended Learning
Blended learning combines face-to-face instruction and other forms of digital processes to deliver information.

5. Facilitated Virtual Learning
A facilitator assists by providing tutoring or additional supervision which is accompanied by computer-based, Internet-based, or remote teacher online learning.

How does one ensure that virtual learning is effective? Here are four areas that matter in virtual learning.

1. Virtual learning needs to be designed specifically to make it engaging and practical for learners. Engagement and interaction are no longer just a matter of asking questions as it would be in face-to-face instruction. With good design, the technology will support the learning and the learners will feel like they are having a conversation with the teacher.

2. The role of the facilitator requires different skills in virtual learning as compared to face-to-face instruction. In addition, the learning environment becomes less instructor-centric and more learner-centric.

3. Ground rules and guidelines should be provided to learners. This is so they know what to expect from the virtual session. A pre-session to set expectations and a post-session to debrief learning should be conducted to ensure learning sticks.

4. You’ll need to give special consideration to how your content will come across in a virtual environment with learners coming from different backgrounds and having different prior knowledge of the topic and the technology.

Now let’s talk about the benefits of virtual learning:

1. Expand access to formal educational offerings
More people from different backgrounds can now access formal educational offerings without having to worry about travel, location, and other expenses.

2. Develop new skill sets needed in the 21st Century
This type of learning process exposes learners to ways of learning they will need in the future with everything going digital.

3. Personalize student learning
Because virtual learning can be done anytime, anywhere, the learner can set his/her own pace in learning, thus personalizing the learning experience. Virtual learning allows learners to take and retake the course at their own pace and time.

4. Allow quieter learners to have a voice
Since learners do not see other face-to-face, there is more opportunity for quieter learners to participate and engage in discussions.

5. Online learning communities develop invaluable diversity/networking/collaboration skills
Virtual learning allows learners and teachers to create online communities that foster collaboration, networking and equalize the playing field for everyone.

6. Learners receive regular feedback and track their own progress
Virtual learning tools allow learners and teachers to tack progress and provide regular, sometimes even anonymous feedback.

Virtual learning can work very well, if designed well because it can overcome the challenges that physical environments pose in the learning experience. The possibilities are endless. As technological and digital advancements continue to pop up everyday, so will ways and techniques to use these advancements in the field of learning.

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