As we head into the second decade of the 21st century, now more than ever is the time to break away from traditional learning methods and start incorporating modern technologies and blended learning experiences into your training and education programs. There are a variety of eLearning technologies and strategies that can be utilized in any educational context, both workplace to academic, to achieve better learning outcomes. With eLearning, there is no limit to the creative ways virtual learning environments (VLEs) can be configured.
What is a Virtual Learning Environment?
A virtual learning environment (VLE) is an online platform used for educational purposes. It encapsulates all the online environments that act as supplements to the course, whether they are online courses, reading resources and informational sites with stand-alone skill assessments, or other forms of virtual learning.
Digital Learning: We’ve Come a Long Way
Not too long ago, digital learning was as technologically advanced as watching videos on a VCR. While videos are still a great way to deliver learning objectives, eLearning has dramatically expanded to include web-based educational delivery systems that provide a more manageable, dynamic, and engaging learning environment. Courses may be synchronous, in which participants interact in real time, or asynchronous, in which students may do the work at their leisure and respond to prompts online.
The advantages of current eLearning software programs include:
- Educators receive real-time data on the success (or lack thereof) of the students.
- Students communicate with their peers as well as their teacher.
- Coursework schedules can be personalized for each student.
- Work can be completed anywhere a student can log onto the site – many learning platforms even include offline capabilities.
For eLearning to succeed, it is imperative to consider the setting, or virtual learning environment, in which the student is engaged. This environment includes both the physical factors of the learning space and the virtual components of the online platform.
Learning Management Systems: Your Virtual Hub
When it comes to the future of eLearning, mobility, flexibility, and scalability are key factors to providing managers with a sustainable and successful training solution. Learners want access to resources and courses on their own time, in their own space, with content that’s engaging and memorable. Learning management systems (LMS) must include mobile application and integrate with existing solutions to help streamline processes and create organized, effective training programs. In addition, VLEs should have the following:
- The ability to turn lessons and modules into games that offer badges and other online baubles for rewards spurs friendly competition and higher compliance rates.
- Video conferencing. Learners need face to face time with each other, teachers, supervisors, etc.
- Social networking. The VLE should include message boards, forums, or other ways in which the learners can communicate with each other and ask questions. Sharing classroom notes and collaborating on projects or discussions, even virtually, strengthens the learning experience.
- Skills and certification tracking. As learners gain new skills and achieve new levels of expertise, modules or courses that provide certifications or recognitions upon completion boost confidence and morale, and displays continuous professional development throughout the entirety of the employee lifecycle.
In addition, VLEs with open technology are able to incorporate multiple types of media and teaching methods to engage learners with complex and diverse backgrounds. AI and machine learning, microlearning and digital libraries are also all powerful tools in the online learning space.
Diversifying and breaking down the content into bite-sized modules, a strategy called microlearning, is another great way to design your environment. As opposed to a long, linear unit on a certain topic, modules allow students to jump around and create their own cross-connections to the material. All materials must be brief and concise and focused on the common objective for that module.
The Power of Collaborative Learning
No virtual environment can replace the interaction of two human beings. Therefore, the best VLEs have a personal touch. This can be an actual teacher/facilitator in the room, synchronous online time with a mentor, real-time chats with peers, or submersion into courses using augmented reality or virtual classrooms. Collaboration is a key indicator of effectiveness in online learning. Small group assignments and required forum discussions give opportunities for students who might sit in “the back of the room” to participate fully.
In student-centered learning, the instructor gives the student more control over what they learn, how they learn, and when they learn a particular topic. This degree of personal interaction makes students more active in their own learning process and has been proven to have meaningful outcomes. This is a much more involved educational scenario than just assigning learners certain modules. It helps learners develop a love for the act of gaining knowledge itself rather than just checking off the boxes.
Promote an environment where immediate feedback is welcome and expected. The automatic grading features in the LMS that you choose should be utilized to keep learners involved. Encourage students to interact and respond promptly to questions and comments in the forums and chat rooms. One of the great advantages of virtual learning is the ability to course-correct midstream, if necessary. Difficult concepts can be repeated and misunderstandings corrected before they are ingrained.
Virtual Learner Environments: The Future is Now
As technologies continue to evolve, approaches to learning will continue to shift in order to better engage the modern learner. Look for the following to come to virtual learning environments in the near future:
- Virtual science laboratories where students can conduct experiments or observe phenomena.
- Virtual humanities environments such as museums, archaeological sites, or historical time periods.
- Virtual corporate training spaces where employees can train on new equipment, attend meetings, and peruse documents.
When building a VLE, keep an eye on the future. New innovations are always around the corner. A flexible and interoperable learning platform will allow for easy expansion and integration of new technologies when they arrive, allowing you to scale your training programs for years to come. Don’t settle for yesterday’s education solutions when tomorrow is a brighter horizon.
Want to learn more about leveraging your technology to provide engaging Virtual Learning Environments? Contact the eLearning experts at eThink with your questions, or request an individual demonstration to see how eThink’s fully-managed learning solutions can prepare you for the future of learning.Request a Demo