With the rise in use of cellphones, tablets, and handheld devices in every day life, ever wonder when you'll have that classroom in your pocket? You already do.
Technology and School
Technology use in every day has grown by leaps and bounds since the early 2000s: video conferences bring companies and clients together faster, maps and research are available at the touch of a screen, doctors are treating patients virtually across continents. Teachers and educators are benefiting from the expanding technological advances from pre-k all the way through adult education. Beyond being a form of entertainment and communication, virtual technology and instruction have expanded the boundaries of our classrooms because of its efficacy, ease of use, and varied benefits to both children and adults.
A Game Changer
We made it almost twenty years into the millennium and while I know I'm still mad we don't have flying cars and mech suits, I'll have to settle for evolving higher education methods that benefit large groups of people as a consolation prize. Virtual instruction is defined by Purdue University as a ''course taught either solely online or when components of face-to-face instruction are taught online.'' The idea of virtual instruction or the 'virtual classroom' has already had an impact on adult education and the ability of adults to return to school while still working or taking care of children. Brick and mortar colleges have been able to expand their course catalog and offer a more diverse range of academic topics with the inclusion of the virtual classroom. A 2012 survey of online learning conducted by Babson College estimated that the number of post-secondary students participating in either blended programs or virtual instruction based learning to be about 6.7 million.
Bringing College Education to Underserved Populations
Virtual classrooms or virtual education is the next logical step in a rising tide of technology. Virtual instruction has been benefiting rural areas by bringing more post-secondary education to underserved populations. A 2013 article by EdTechMagazine outlined the benefit of virtual learning in bridging the technology gap many small rural community colleges face. Through working with local grants and community involvement, Western Nevada College was able to provide recorded and live broadcast lectures for students to view on their personal laptops or mobile devices, as well as in several distance-learning rooms equipped with viewing hardware in the wake of budget cuts that forced the closing of instrumental satellite classrooms essential to the community.
In a 2011 press release by the US Department of Education, US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan stated that rural students are less likely than their peers to access a secondary education or technical trade. As evidenced by Western Nevada College's use of virtual instruction, bringing the information to the students may be the boost rural communities need going forward.
Inclusion and Choice
Virtual Instruction can also benefit children with different educational needs who may not respond to what is considered to be the ''traditional'' classroom environment. K-12 online schooling has become popular with many families who choose to homeschool and have become alternatives to children who need more attention. Perhaps a child is gifted and would benefit from the individual pace of virtual instruction. The same could be true for a child who is struggling or is over stimulated by a classroom setting. Programs such as K12 offer a curriculum based on the student's location so they keep up with state-based educational requirements while getting the attention they need to grow as students. K12 and other programs do not charge tuition fees for public education curriculums, allowing homeschooling families to expand their curriculum without paying out of pocket for teaching materials.
Many children also benefit from the inclusion of virtual instruction as referenced in What Works in K-12 Online Learning. Students who have special needs, such as sight or hearing impaired students, can be mainstreamed into blended programs that provide both virtual instruction and traditional peer involvement settings that allow for inclusion and the building of relationships and the best part of being a kid, friendships.
Better Bottom Line for The Boss
Advantages of virtual instruction go beyond formal educational institutions such as K-12 or college classrooms. Most adults are familiar with virtual instruction in the form of the dreaded webinar. Yes. The webinar, that virtual seminar that won't load and has patchy sound and is almost always scheduled just before lunch. While there are a lot more opinion pieces than hard data surrounding the use of virtual instruction in the workforce, it stands to reason that employers and employees benefit from virtual instruction in the workplace. Webinars and virtual training took the place of bulky week-long new employee orientations, allowing staff to start working and earning sooner. They also help staff who hold certifications or licensure keep current without having to travel for seminars and classes, allowing the employee to keep to their regular daily schedule while the employer saves money on paid training, travel reimbursements, and the remaining staff isn't taxed by the loss of a team member.
While I'm still upset that I don't have a robot that does my dishes or my own mech suit, I can definitely be happy with the progress we're making in bringing more educational resources to underserved areas, giving employees and employers more opportunities to train without travel or interruption of family life, and giving nontraditional students a chance to thrive and show off their talents. With the new opportunities virtual instruction has brought to the forefront, it's sure to be an interesting mode of education to watch as we wrap up the first two decades of a new millennium.