Distance learning programs have been around for years. They’re a great way to extend a college or university’s reach to students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend. For example, moving across the country or sometimes even the state isn’t feasible. However, with distance learning programs, these students can attend classes from their home and receive their degree remotely.
Over the years the method of delivering distance learning programs has evolved significantly. The first virtual classroom wasn’t much of a classroom at all. Professors would upload PowerPoint presentations with voice clips attached to each slide and students would listen to each session on their own time. To facilitate discussion, professors could pose questions on message boards and require students to post responses or comment on each other’s posts. Unfortunately, these classes lacked the interactivity and group discussion typically found in a traditional classroom. Students were unable to ask questions or discuss topics in real time causing an isolated learning experience.
Then web conferencing solutions came along. These solutions allowed a presenter to share content (a presentation) and talk through the slides while participants joined the conference and followed along virtually. This allowed students to ask questions and participate in real-time, making the learning experience much more interactive. However, these solutions lacked the face-to-face interaction common in traditional classrooms which allows students to bond and develop relationships with each other; both of which are necessary to stimulate open discussion.
Eventually, video conferencing began to integrate into web conferencing solutions. Cloud-based virtual meeting rooms were also developed which provided a way for professors and students to interact face-to-face while simultaneously viewing the presentation. This created a more interactive learning environment and allowed a virtual classroom to more closely emulate a traditional classroom. However, the ability break out into small groups during class or work on group projects still presented a challenge. These services were not scalable and it was cost prohibitive to give small groups of students their own room let alone give each student his or her own virtual meeting.
Acano, a visual collaboration technology that was recently introduced, overcomes these scalability barriers and allows virtual classrooms to truly rival a traditional classroom. Every distance learning student can receive their own account and licenses can be redistributed as students graduate or leave the program. Virtual meeting rooms can be set up for each class and students can be subscribed to the classes they are registered for. Additionally, professors can set up separate rooms for breakout sessions then subscribe small groups of students. A list of rooms that users are subscribed to is always available, allowing students and professors to easily switch between different classes and breakout groups. As a result, distance learning students are able to listen to a lecture while simultaneously viewing the presentation, easily engaging and interacting with professors and their peers, as well as participating in both class and group discussions.