5 Must-Have Features of a Virtual Classroom

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virtual classTo be sure, today's virtual classroom tools offer many bells and whistles. But unless your virtual classroom also provides the basic features, you will find yourself in trouble very quickly when you really need to get down to business. I consider these five features to be nonnegotiable when selecting a virtual classroom.

#1: Archiving
Technology is always going to be a bit of a gamble. There are so many variables involved, especially when you have participants all over the globe logging on. Having the ability to archive individual learning sessions provides essential back-up offerings for those learners who might not be able to fix any issues they are having during the live session. Archiving also has the added benefit of enabling facilitators to use the session as an evaluative tool, as well as something participants can assess for occasional review.

#2: Accessibility
Accessibility is an important component of any learning tool we use. As trainers, we want to ensure that all learners have equal access to content when using an assistive technology. There are other benefits to making sure your virtual classroom is accessible, such as the accommodation of multiple learning styles. For example, captioning can be beneficial in many circumstances, not just for the hearing impaired, including non-native language speakers, people who are hard of hearing (sometimes age related), and someone who has a reading learning style.

#3: Audio Back-Up
No matter how much testing you perform, there are still instances when technology fails. There are several reasons why you're audio might fail; for example, connection drops out, unstable wireless connection, or headset stops working. When this happens, you need a quick back-up you can jump to so your learners don't miss any vital learning materials. A telephone bridge can be used in cases when your computer microphone or headset fails to work correctly. Having a back-up already in place—ready to go—is invaluable.

#4: Extended support
One of the benefits of using a virtual classroom is its scheduling flexibility—to best fit the learner's needs. Sometimes this means having sessions after traditional business hours. Consequently, it is still important to have access to live support during these hours, at to not prohibit any learners from attending due to technical issues. Learners need to be able to make a phone call and troubleshoot with technical support at any time. The same holds true for the facilitator; the session can't continue without the facilitator, so it's important to have a quick lifeline when needed.

#5: Classroom Management Tools
Whether it's a virtual classroom or an in-person learning experience, classroom management can make or break the learning experience. It is important to have the capability to restrict access to functionality when needed, prevent everyone talking over one another, and facilitate engagement and activities. Some functions that can help with this are hand-raising and the ability to turn functions on and off for either an individual or the entire class.

Bottom line: Just like traditional face-to-face learning, it takes time and practice to manage your virtual classroom effectively. But the right tools will get you off to a good start.

Reference:White Papers: Online Learning, by Amy Thornton, 2015 Columbus State University

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