Virtual learning gives professionals the chance to re-enter education, but which type of solution is best?

Teachers must weigh up the needs of their students and have the flexibility to implement a range of online solutions

Distance learning has taken a huge leap forward in the past decade with the evolution of tech-aided solutions, now serving to meet a growing demand for virtual courses – largely fuelled by time-poor professionals keen to re-enter education.

Learning as a way of improving one’s career prospects is now seen as a lifelong endeavour. However, for many, work commitments, family obligations or journey times are a barrier to attending fixed classes. So, more and more people from myriad industries and backgrounds are now choosing to develop their potential by signing up to a virtual course. As a result, we have seen an explosion in distance learning, perfectly suited to the mindset of today’s students who have grown up in a hyper-connected digital world.

Asynchronous virtual learning

The majority of distance learning courses are currently asynchronous, meaning that dialogue between a teacher and a student doesn’t take place in ‘real-time’. The level of interactive engagement is limited as communication is reliant on more traditional forms of online contact, including emails, digital course materials and one-way video presentations. Consequently, the online learning experience is restricted to ‘hear and learn’ with little scope for social or emotional interaction.

However, people are social by nature and need emotional cues to encourage their minds to open up to fresh ideas and content. Their curiosity and thirst for knowledge is stimulated when they share a learning experience in a collaborative way with their peers and teachers – so a synchronous approach to virtual learning is far more likely to satisfy that very human need.

Synchronous virtual learning

Synchronous learning is an interactive experience, drawing out the student’s passion for learning as they actively engage, albeit virtually, with their peers and teacher. A virtual classroom solution, such as Barco’s own weConnect, offers participants the same ‘real-time’ collaborative learning experience as that of being in a physical classroom.

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In the synchronous model, live audio-visual streaming technologies and interfaces are used to enable participants to interact in real-time. Physical actions, vocal intonations and nonverbal cues can also be observed and responded to. The tutor, much as they would in a physical classroom, guides the students through the lesson and undertakes activities such as illustrating on a white board, answering questions and adding additional explanations when prompted by a class member.

Hybrid virtual learning

Although synchronous learning delivers many advantages over an asynchronous approach, there are benefits to implementing a hybrid solution – particularly where students, such as busy professionals, only have set times where they are able to attend online sessions, study or complete coursework. The hybrid route is well suited to those who are keen to upskill at a university, institute or business school of their choice, anywhere in the world, whilst remaining committed to a full-time career.

Joining a virtual course, with asynchronous and synchronous elements, means students benefit from the positive experience of real-time engagement in a ‘virtual classroom’ setting, and are then able to revert to asynchronous online tools to undertake additional study, review coursework and complete homework assignments. In this way, participants can work at their own pace or timetable to fit in with their other commitments, be they in the workplace or at home. This dual approach also fulfils a student’s need to socialise with peers and stems the feelings of isolation that a solely asynchronous online learning experience might promote.

Teachers must weigh up the needs of their students and have the flexibility to implement an array of online solutions to deliver learning experiences that fit into people’s complex and demanding lifestyles. In this way, it will become the norm – and not the exception – for people everywhere to access education throughout their careers and well into their later years.

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