By Allen Parker
You’ve heard about them—your friend, your friend’s mom, your friend’s cousin’s neighbour—people who you’ve heard graduated from online courses. There were some who used to laugh at the idea of online courses before, given the concept’s relative new-ness as well as the unproven quality of the academic institutions behind them. Does the same still hold true today? How have virtual classrooms improved?
New Wave of Virtual Classrooms
Today, virtual classrooms are gaining more traction. Virtual classrooms wouldn’t gain any headway if the methods didn’t evolve together with the technology available. When carried out using the proper approaches and with the right technologies, the results can be great.
Take LearnZillion, for example, a site that shares classes conducted by real teachers on various subjects, all done through 5-minute videos. This length was determined to be just right, and the parts where students have difficulty understanding can simply be replayed over and over until the idea sticks.
The classes that have been posted online will remain free, according to co-founder Eric Westendorf. Currently, the team behind it is trying to grow the site’s functionality by getting contributions from teachers all over the United States and also coming up with features like a playlist of classes that interested students can browse.
There is actually another site similar to LearnZillion, a non-profit organization that goes by the name of the Khan Academy. There are already thousands of different lectures posted on the site, ranging from topics like Algebra all the way to Venture Capital and Capital Markets. What these examples teach us is that the Internet empowers academic institutions and instructors to come up with innovative approaches to teaching. The tools are right there, waiting to be explored and used.
Tools for Success
In a world where mobile apps like WhatsApp and Viber and RingCentral allow for free calling and SMS services over the Internet, and you’ve got multimedia platforms like YouTube that are easily accessible by anyone with a computer and a decent Internet connection, there’s no reason why the vast potential of online classrooms cannot be tapped.
A ton of resources are already available on the cloud, and people are leaning toward Web-based applications more. A ton of people are now turning to mobile devices to consume all sorts of media, and with smartphones and tablet PCs being more affordable, it’s no wonder that vast amounts of data are being gobbled up by people all over the world. Virtual classrooms can be accessed through these highly portable devices, so their reach has expanded considerably.
In addition, new technologies that are being developed hold a lot of potential for making virtual classrooms more successful. Microsoft’s Surface technology, for example, can be used for future interactive classroom concepts. There’s also Google’s Glass Project that they introduced just recently.
There are few roadblocks that stand in the way of virtual classrooms’ success—the quest for profitability and the availability of high-speed Internet.
According to a Massachusetts fifth-grade teacher named Mike Lewis, he decided to contribute to the LearnZillion program because it gave him the “ability to replicate yourself and your lessons using video.” This massive reach, however, is still limited to those who have Internet. What about regions where the networks don’t have service? The students there miss out on valuable resources and opportunities.
The profitability, or lack thereof, of an institution that provides virtual classrooms is not a problem if the institution can get some much-needed financial backing from corporations and even government agencies willing to fund them. Still, not everyone who wishes to provide online learning resources for students get enough backing. For those who want sustainability, they might eventually turn to paid models that might cater to the needs of, say, private schools so that they will have money to pay teachers, buy equipment, and support expenses involved in running a website.
The virtual classrooms of today continue to make strides, and in an age dominated by Internet usage, sharing, and multimedia consumption, these resources are transforming into vital learning materials for students of all ages. They are invaluable tools that we can only hope constantly improve and evolve—after all, that can only prove to be for the benefit of those who want to learn.
Allen Parker is a full-time tech enthusiast with a day job in the telecommunications industry. Aside from technology, he enjoys food, sports, and graphic design. Follow Allen on Twitter at @allensparker.