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The importance of virtual learning environment: Enhancing education in the digital age
The term virtual learning environment (VLE) refers to a platform that provides educators with digital tools for generating interactive, group-based learning experiences in the classroom. Virtual learning environments can help students receive accessible and affordable education in a safe learning environment. The metaverse will likely transform education in virtual spaces as it can provide people with 3D learning experiences, facilitate global connectivity, and drive innovation in teaching methods. Although VLEs have certain drawbacks, like technical difficulties, limited social interaction, and a distraction-prone environment, building programs to minimize these obstacles will drive further adoption. This blog explores virtual learning environments' significance, benefits, drawbacks, and the metaverse's transformative impact on education.
What is a virtual learning environment?
Virtual learning environments (VLE) are a part of an education platform’s learning management system (LMS), available online to facilitate and enhance learning. It provides a digital space where students and educators can interact, access learning materials, collaborate on assignments, and engage in various educational activities.
There are three primary types of VLEs:
Synchronous: Here, instructors and learners are present online simultaneously, and learning and interaction occur in real time.
Asynchronous: In this case, instructors and learners do not access the online platform simultaneously, and education takes place independently.
Hybrid: This approach combines the elements of synchronous and asynchronous study.
A VLE typically consists of several vital components that work together to support the learning process:
Course management: A VLE allows educators to create and organize courses, including syllabi, lesson plans, and learning objectives. It provides tools for structuring course content as modules, topics, or units, making it easy for students to navigate and access relevant materials.
Content delivery: One of the primary functions of a VLE is to deliver learning resources in various formats, such as text documents, multimedia files, presentations, or interactive modules. These resources can be uploaded by instructors or sourced from external repositories, offering students a rich and diverse range of materials to support their learning.
Communication and collaboration: A VLE enables seamless communication and collaboration between students and teachers. It provides features like discussion forums, messaging systems, and video conferencing tools to facilitate interaction and promote engagement. Students can ask questions, participate in group discussions, and seek instructor clarifications, fostering a sense of community within the virtual classroom.
Tracking and reporting: VLEs provide tracking and reporting capabilities, enabling educators to monitor students' participation, progress, and performance. They can generate reports on attendance, assignment completion, and grades, which educators can use to identify areas where students may need additional support.
How is the metaverse changing education?
Immersive learning: Through virtual and augmented reality technologies (VR and AR), the metaverse offers immersive learning experiences, enabling students to interact with 3D simulations of life-like scenarios. For example, Mondly’s VR app conducts language training by placing students in situations requiring them to speak another language and ‘learn by doing.’ According to XR Today, 54% of teachers and 41% of parents look forward to children using immersive learning in the classroom, highlighting the keen interest in using technology as a learning tool.
Experiential learning: The metaverse allows for hands-on and experiential learning opportunities, where students can actively engage in simulations, experiments, and practical exercises, enhancing their understanding and retention of knowledge. For instance, students can virtually study the internal organs of a frog through a tool called Froggipedia to improve their comprehension.
Global connectivity: The metaverse breaks down geographical barriers, connecting students and educators globally, facilitating cross-cultural understanding, collaboration, and the exchange of ideas and perspectives. For instance, with the metaverse, a student in India could attend a lecture by a leading professor in Seoul. Students worldwide could also use the metaverse to join a virtual tour of the Louvre in Paris, where they can interact with each other and their surroundings.
Innovation and creativity: The metaverse stimulates innovation and creativity in education by providing a platform for experimenting with new teaching methods and learning approaches. For instance, incorporating gamification elements in learning, like rewards, challenges, and leaderboards, can make learning enjoyable and increase student motivation to study.
Development of digital literacy skills: Professional careers from marketing to manufacturing are increasingly becoming tech-focused, requiring candidates to be capable of leveraging technology to work efficiently, collaborate and solve complex problems. As advanced technologies like AR, VR, and artificial intelligence (AI) become a part of the metaverse, it will create opportunities for learners to engage with them early on and help them develop the digital literacy skills needed for the workforce of the future.
Virtual learning environment benefits
Enabling affordable access to education: McKinsey reports that the number of learners of online courses increased from 300,000 to 220 million from 2011 to 2021. While pursuing studies in a different country or city, the cost of living often becomes high for students, which is one of the main reasons traditional enrolments drop 1% to 2% yearly, as reported by the OECD. VLEs provide opportunities to individuals who may not have access to formal educational institutions and offer a cost-effective alternative to learning. It opens doors for lifelong learners, working professionals, and those with family obligations, offering flexible learning schedules and locations.
Providing a safe and inclusive learning environment: VLEs allow for learner anonymity, reducing potential biases and creating a level playing field for students. Individuals facing physical or social barriers in a traditional classroom can actively participate in online discussions and activities. VLEs can also allow students with disabilities to access content easily. For instance, the University of Ottawa uses virtual learning platforms like TopHat and Brightspace to share course content, which offer various accessibility features like captions for videos, text-to-speech capabilities, and screen reader support.
Personalized learning opportunities: Through adaptive learning technology, VLEs can assess students' strengths and weaknesses and provide tailored content, resources, and assessments. This individualized approach enhances engagement, retention, and overall learning outcomes. A student who prefers reading rather than visual learning can benefit from written transcripts of video materials. This approach can be applied when assessing students' comprehension by incorporating alternative options for testing, such as writing essays or creating an explanatory video.
Flexible learning schedules: Flexible learning schedules are crucial in virtual learning, allowing learners to adapt their study time to fit their schedules and commitments. For example, providing pre-recorded video lessons and online course materials that learners can access at any time instead of time-bound virtual classes can be helpful.
Disadvantages of virtual learning environments
Limited social interaction: In VLEs, since the learning experience is limited to virtual spaces, it can be difficult for certain students to cope with isolation. While many students thrive independently, virtual learning can trigger mental health issues for some, leading to anxiety and negative thoughts. To counter the lack of social interaction, programs created through VLEs can build online communities for their classes and incorporate multiple forms of interaction like emails, messages, and video conferencing. Slack, WhatsApp, or Facebook can effectively allow students to connect with peers.
Technical challenges: VLEs rely heavily on emerging technologies prone to glitching and malfunctions, creating a frustrating experience for learners. Internet connectivity is also a prerequisite for consuming learning materials online, which can restrict individuals who lack access to them. According to UNICEF, 1.3 billion children between the ages of 3 and 17 lacked internet connectivity as of 2020, highlighting that online education is only a viable option for some.
Distractions: A research paper on ‘College Students’ Distractions from Learning Caused by Multitasking in Online vs. Face-to-Face Classes’ published by the National Library of Medicine revealed that 44% of students in a virtual learning environment spent 20% of their time on other devices than engaging in actual learning. Virtual learning can be complex for students without a proper structure, a distraction-free environment, and a dedicated space to study.
Limited feedback: Often, asynchronous virtual learning structures limit the ability to receive input from lecturers compared to if a student were in a traditional classroom. Without the proper feedback, learners may struggle to understand if they are on track and complete their coursework efficiently. Research by Frontier revealed that 44% of students reported the lack of instructor interactions affected their online learning experiences.
Best virtual learning experiences
Interactive and engaging content: The best virtual learning experiences incorporate interactive and engaging content, utilizing multimedia like videos, images, and audio. These elements bring the material to life, enhance understanding, and promote active learning. For example, Coursera, a leading education technology platform, provides courses with video learning materials and interactive lectures from qualified instructors.
Adaptive learning: Exceptional virtual learning experiences embrace personalization through adaptive learning technology. For example, ELM Learning developed a programmatic advertising course for Google using challenging pre-tests and adaptive simulations to reveal employees' knowledge gaps and motivate them to learn. This approach fostered a culture of continuous improvement at Google.
Timely instructor feedback: Regular and timely feedback is crucial in virtual learning environments to promptly address students' questions and concerns. Research conducted by Educase demonstrated that students who received increased personalized and subject-specific feedback per assignment achieved higher scores on a standardized examination. Additionally, these students expressed higher satisfaction with their learning experiences.
Virtual learning environments have revolutionized education by democratizing the industry and fostering innovative learning experiences. The journey towards a transformative educational landscape begins with the integration of robust VLEs, paving the way for a more accessible, personalized, and inclusive learning environment for all.
Are you looking to build an immersive virtual learning environment for your learners? We can help you create engaging and interactive learning experiences in the metaverse. Get in touch with us!
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