Challenges of virtual learning

KNOWLEDGE 0N TAP

Online classes rely heavily on self-motivation self-discipline and ability for effective written communication, writes N N Prahallada.

Virtual education has been in existence Virtual education has been in existence in some form or the other for sometime throughout the globe including India and is becoming increasingly popular.

Virtual education has been in existence in some form or the other for sometime throughout the globe including India and is becoming increasingly popular.

Online  classes are less expensive compared to regular college or university programmes. The internet and other global information infrastructures provide a major challenge to higher education such as: the extent to which education should become ‘virtual’, the actual cost and value of such innovation and its suitability to its stakeholders (e.g. students) are now discussed the world over.

Online universities have gained a lot of interest over the past 12 years. The prospect of a “Virtual Campus” in which students communicate, study and work together with each other and teachers from different locations, brings both challenges and opportunities for higher education institutions.

Bringing a virtual campus to life and making it functional requires a minimum of administrative support, strategic planning, technical solutions, teacher and student motivation, educational vision and online contents. There are different ways for universities, and for countries, to implement their e-learning strategies in universities.

If we want to open up public education to new providers and forms of learning, the fundamental challenges are to ensure both quality and academic integrity. And virtual education gives us an opportunity for a new approach that puts effectiveness and student outcomes at its centre.

Virtual education refers to instruction in a learning environment where teacher and student are separated by time or space, or both, and the teacher provides course content through the use of methods such as course management applications, multimedia resources, the Internet, and videoconferencing. Students receive the content and communicate with the teacher via the same technology.

Virtual education is a term describing online education using the Internet. This term is used in K-l2 schooling, often to refer to cyber schools, and in higher education, where so-called virtual universities have been established. A virtual course of studies is a study program in which all courses, or at least a significant portion of the courses, are virtual courses, whether in synchronous (i e real time) or asynchronous (i.e. self-paced) formats.

Virtual courses (or online courses) are delivered on the internet. “Virtual” is used here to characterize the fact that the course is not taught in a classroom face-to-face but through some substitute mode that can be associated with classroom teaching.

Both the asynchronous and synchronous methods rely heavily on self-motivation, self-discipline, and ability for effective written communication.

Instruction modes

Many virtual study programs are mainly text based, using  Power Point  techniques. Any attempt to personalize the educational experience is essential in that students respond to personal attention and feedback.

Today a wide spectrum of instruction modes is available, including the following

Virtual Classroom: Live teacher instruction and feedback online that enables real-time voice interaction, whiteboard sharing, and breakout sessions to enhance a student’s learning experience. This provides students an opportunity to interact with the teacher as well as classmates by oral and written communication.

Video-based courses are like face-to-face classroom courses, with a lecturer speaking and Power point slides or online examples used for illustration. Video-streaming technologies is used. Students watch the video by means of freeware or plug-ins.

Audio-based courses are similar but instead of moving pictures only the sound track of the lecturer is provided. Often the course pages are enhanced with a text transcription of the lecture.

Animated courses: Enriching text-oriented or audio-based course material by animations is generally a good way of making the content more interesting. Animations are created using Macromedia Flash or similar technologies.

Web-supported textbook courses are based on specific textbooks. Students read and reflect on the chapters by themselves. Review questions, topics for discussion, exercises and case studies are given chapter wise on a website and discussed with the lecturer. Class meetings may be held to discuss matters in a chat room.

Social Networking: Virtual classrooms promote increased social interaction, student-centred instruction and a problem solving curriculum. Students can address a problem that is oriented to a cross curriculum activity.  Teachers will act as guides and resources, but it is up to the students to collaborate, discuss, review ideas, and present solutions.
 
Implications

A paradigmatic shift, from a professor-centered to a student-centered system of learning, has particular implications for the profession of teaching. One implication is a recommitment to creating an ideal learning environment for students, employing new technologies to address variances from the ideal.

A second major implication for faculty is a shift from traditional to new roles and classroom responsibilities. The transition from lecturer to facilitator will not happen overnight and must be accompanied by institutional and professional commitment to incorporate research findings into professional development activities.

Perhaps the most telling difference between learning in the traditional and virtual modes is the kind and extent of interaction. In the traditional classroom, the potential for learner-instructor and learner-learner is very high, but instructors have largely ignored this mandate for change and continue to employ the lecture mode as the predominant method of instruction.

In the virtual classroom, on the other hand, technology supports collaborative learning, heterogeneous groupings, problem-solving and higher order thinking skills-educational processes that a lecture format cannot facilitate.

We need to explore the varieties of impact made on higher education by advances in technology and the implications this has for the methods and delivery of education. The impact on the locations and the institutions where education has traditionally been delivered can also be examined. Similar website can also be found at Virtual Learning Network Homepage VLNH.com

Advantages

Compared to traditional classroom setting, virtual learning is a better option for many. Depending on the self-discipline, pace of learning and style and motivation of an individual, getting an online education could easily offer a learning experience more effective than attending classes at a brick and mortar educational institution.
One can learn from anywhere even from the comfort of one’s home comfort saving countless hours of transit that one would otherwise spend.

Virtual learning is extremely flexible allowing students to learn when they want. This is of a great help for students who have a full time job or have children and may not be able to attend regular classes. any other way.

The pedagogical value of online learning is that it provides the learner greater autonomy thereby learner has the liberty to accommodate multiple learning styles and mediums, which suit him/her the best – email, chat rooms and video conferencing.

Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal is of  the view  that in coming years the physical barriers of universities can be broken allowing students to take up courses in any institute across the globe through virtual medium. He also hinted that a virtual university may soon come up in the country offering students’ immense opportunities.

While speaking at the Indo-US higher education summit at Washington, USA recently,  Kapil Sibal also said that the 21st century classrooms would be different and the content of pedagogy too would be radically altered. “Customized learning across cultures will be the dominant theme of higher education. We need to open up the university as a learning space, embrace collaborative knowledge production, and break down the walls between institutions.”

Endorsing  Kapil Sibal’s vision, Prof. V G Idichandy, former Deputy Director of IIT-Madras observed that , virtual mode will eventually happen, as we start moving on to virtual classrooms. “There is nothing wrong in removing physical barriers, as it will help many who want to study in distance education mode. This will help us to provide education to more students across the globe. Virtual university will help us achieve anybody, anywhere, anytime concept. This has to happen soon”.
In our country efforts are being made to start virtual universities. At present Tamil  Virtual University, IGNO University Virtual Campus, Nalanda Virtual University, Birla Institute of technology and science BITS Virtual University, IITs  and a host of  other universities are coming forward to provide  virtual University facilities to the students.

(The author is a guest faculty and associate professor in education, Regional Institute of Education, Mysore)

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