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by Brian Westfall,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: October 12, 2016

Distance learning courses are a long-established tradition in education and training. Indeed, the University of London established its international program in 1858, making it the world’s oldest provider of distance and flexible learning.

Even so, seemingly unavoidable disadvantages have typically resulted in lower completion rates for distance learning than for in-person classes. Until the 21st century, there was no way to avoid the lack of direct interaction between student and teacher or the demoralizing effects of student isolation. Today, however, software has made it possible for distance learning to be conducted in real time and with a much more personal quality.

This guide will help prospective buyers learn more about virtual classroom software. In it, we’ll cover:

What Is Virtual Classroom Software?
Common Features of Virtual Classroom Software
Benefits of Virtual Classroom Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Recent Developments You Should Know About

What Is Virtual Classroom Software?

Virtual classroom technology is part of the broader learning management software category. It provides individuals and organizations with conferencing and collaboration capabilities. As a result, instructors can directly interact with learners anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, while maximizing both time and location flexibility.

Common Features of Virtual Classroom Software

Virtual classroom software can be used by educators as well as trainers at organizations with a large geographical reach, in order to bring learning to students wherever they are located while reducing travel costs to zero. Buyers should expect to find the following functionality in their new system:

Audio-video streaming Instructors can interact directly, in real time, with groups of learners or individuals via streaming audio and video.
Interactive whiteboards Virtual whiteboards allow instructors to share information with students, and include the ability to add real-time annotations, text and highlighting. Learners can also be given access, so they can share their video stream or desktop with the class.
Chat Learners and instructors can interact via personal or group chat, rather than sit passively listening to lectures. Questions can be addressed directly in real time, and instructors can conduct quick tests.
Recording Instructors can record classes for playback by absent students. They can also use the audio-video recording functionality to prepare introductions to lessons.
Breakout rooms Instructors can break classes into smaller groups via virtual breakout rooms, where learners can collaborate to solve problems. Breakout rooms have their own chat, whiteboard and document-sharing capabilities.
Media streaming Enables instructors to play audio/video files using a built-in media player.
Attendance reporting Instructors can monitor attendance and send out notifications about upcoming classes to learners.
Polling Enables instructors to conduct quizzes and surveys during class, then assess learner comprehension by viewing the results in chart form.
Desktop and file sharing Instructors can share their desktop as well as multiple file types (PDFs, Word documents etc.) with learners during class.

Benefits of Virtual Classroom Software

Organizations that use these systems are able to:

  • Provide students with the flexibility of following and completing courses at their own pace.
  • Deliver education and training to students who are currently employed or whose scheduling commitments prevent them from attending in-person classes.
  • Expand the reach of their education to anywhere on the globe, so long as students have access to the Internet.
  • Reduce travel costs for instructors and learners to zero.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Virtual classroom technology can be used by individual tutors and organizations alike. Although marketing materials are often aimed at educational institutions, any organization with a large and dispersed workforce can benefit from using this technology for internal new-hire and personal development courses, as it eliminates the need for employees to travel for training.

That said, some solutions do cater specifically to higher or secondary ed, while others predominantly serve the corporate world. Meanwhile, some vendors offer different, specialized products for different types of buyers, while some products can be leveraged equally effectively by any type of organization.

What's most important when evaluating software is finding a product with the features and functionality you need, regardless of the type of buyer it's marketed to most heavily.

Recent Developments You Should Know About

Although some instructors still harbor doubts about remote learning and virtual classroom tools, they are becoming increasingly commonplace due to the many benefits they offer. Indeed, prestigious educational organizations are now using these tools.

For example, in August 2015, Harvard Business School demonstrated its confidence in virtual classroom technology by launching HBX Live: a virtual classroom capable of “seating” 60 students simultaneously. With this, students from around the world are able to log in and interact directly with faculty members teaching courses. Participants are displayed on individual screens, replicating the effect of sitting in an actual classroom, while others can “audit” classes via an observer model.

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