Virtual classrooms have become an everyday reality for many teachers and learners today, especially as we navigate the “new normal” after the past couple of years events. Although the virtual classroom is a somewhat recent development, distance learning has a long history, particularly in higher education.

The physical classroom works well when the teacher is enthused and the students are engaged. Lessons are made more effective by the use of mixed techniques and interaction. This allows teachers to build a rapport with the learners, which helps to motivate and retain interest.

The sophistication of modern software means that many of the activities of the traditional physical classroom can now be replicated in online settings. Tools such as digital whiteboards replace their physical equivalent and also allow greater interactivity with students. In addition, text, voice, and video messaging promote communication in class, and other classroom-specific software applications allow participation management and group assignment.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Virtual Classrooms

3 Key Challenges of Virtual Classrooms

While modern technology has opened the door to remote learning in formal education, it can be harder to achieve the same classroom engagement and effectiveness in digital space as the physical, traditional classroom.  We’re taking a look at three key challenges of virtual classrooms and how to overcome them.

1. Overseeing Class Attendance

The virtual classroom is not limited by physical resources. Therefore, class sizes can expand as required. This is fantastic for the democratization of education, but it can be hard to manage with a class of hundreds or even thousands of students. Students may be in different time zones, have different levels of commitment or interest, and have conflicting demands on their time. Attendance may be patchy, which impacts not just individual students but also affects the cohesion of the class as a whole.

Of course, traditional formal education is often legally mandated, and similar attendance monitoring can be used for the virtual classroom. But this does not cover all cases and may not address motivational issues for students’ non-attendance. Engagement is vital, but there are also formal approaches to aid attendance.

The structure and timing of lessons will depend on the targeted audience. Where student numbers are relatively low and possibly part of an existing cohort, virtual classrooms can be a direct replacement for the physical or a hybrid learning solution. In this case, maintenance of the same timetable can help to keep order and regularity. However, more flexibility is desirable in some cases, particularly when students operate in diverse time zones. Here it may be valuable to offer lessons on-demand in addition to scheduled group sessions.

2. Managing Student Engagement

One of the key goals of face-to-face teaching is student engagement. Engaged students focus on the lesson’s topic not just passively, but actively by thinking, responding, and questioning. This is a highly conducive state for learning. In addition, engagement is fostered where students share a rapport with the teacher, have a communal sense with their fellow students, and are interested in the material.

A possible disadvantage of virtual classrooms is that the first of these two factors may be lacking, and thus engagement can be harder to maintain. This is particularly the case with a large cohort of students in diverse locations who may never have met each other or their teacher. Again though, there are ways of managing this.

Most young learners are already well-attuned to digital communications through social media. Thus, a variety of communication channels have become part of the daily lives of the younger generation. Also, videoconferencing tools like Zoom are very prevalent, so technology as such is not the problem.

The key to maintaining engagement in virtual classrooms is interaction. Students watching a single speaker will quickly switch off. It is valuable, therefore, to include a range of activities in lessons. Presentations by the teacher as well as targeted video clips are a good way of introducing topics. Questioning and discussion can take place through videoconferencing or text messaging if network connections are weaker.

Of course, high numbers of students can be harder to work with, so to address this, virtual classroom software such as ViewSonic’s myViewBoard Classroom includes participation management, like hand-raising and speaker selection. These features can help to reduce the potential confusion of many simultaneous voices. Also, dividing learners into sub-groups is an excellent way of allowing closer communication and collaboration on exercises and creative projects.

3. Avoiding Distractions

While young students are well attuned to digital media, this is also a potential problem. Social media thrives on distraction. Therefore, when running a virtual classroom, educators need to consider ways to counter this kind of tendency and maintain student interest in the desired material.

It is useful to consider why social media is effective at distraction: we humans like stimulation and novelty. Educational techniques can also harness this tendency, and studies show that learning is actually facilitated by mixed media and diversity of approach. Videos, for example, can be highly engaging, but clips should be kept short.

Interaction is also essential. Students’ attention is maintained when they are personally involved. The effective use of participation management tools is, therefore, vital to keep the class onboard. Group projects in the lesson can also ensure that smaller-scale interpersonal interactions take place. These approaches give the learners a sense of agency, helping to keep them tuned in. Many online learning platforms now use gamification to promote learning goals, and educators may also choose to pursue this kind of approach. It involves cycles of tasks and rewards, with point-building activities. This introduces a level of fun into the classroom, which can help streamline the educational program’s primary goals.

Furthermore, consider how some of the platforms that may potentially distract learners can also be included in the suite of applications for the lesson. For example, targeted use of social media can provide research or exemplification opportunities. Also, don’t forget that many familiar names like Google and Microsoft can form part of your virtual classroom software suite. These brands offer confidence and help learners to welcome education as a part of their wider digital experience.

Summing it All Up: Overcoming the Challenges of Virtual Classrooms

Virtual classrooms can be formed through a variety of software applications and offer many benefits such as increased global reach and flexibility. Although virtual classrooms may present a few challenges, such as making it harder for students to engage with material or each other, it is always useful to remember that technology and a little creativity can help overcome them.

With thoughtful planning, good software, and effective communication, most of the challenges of virtual classrooms can easily be turned into positives benefits.

To learn more about tools and solutions that can help aid teaching in a virtual setting, check out our hybrid learning solutions or connect with one of our classroom technology experts to have your questions answered or set up a demo.

(From the editor: This article was originally published on ViewSonic Library.)