Aug 5, 2010

Virtual Learning Environments

Virtual Learning Environments are nothing new, but many people believe they are still in their infancy.  I'm not talking about the online classroom or distance learning, a format in which the learner had contact with students and an instructor via the internet.  I am talking about an online environment in which students learn through a structured curriculum - an environment which may have no instructor and one in which the student works through a series of tutorials, lessons, and tests.

Some may view virtual learning environments (see APEX or Florida Virtual School for examples) as putting more distance between the educator and the learner, but I believe these environments may have some merit to them.  They provide a format for a variety of learners, at different paces.  For instance, you may have an under performing high school student who needs to make up credits for classes failed.  They can make up credits in a program such as the one mentioned above, without having to sacrifice an hour out of their schedule reserved for elective courses.  Or a college-bound student wants to get a leg up and graduate sooner so they can enter college earlier.  That student can enroll in courses with a virtual school that offers that curriculum.  And still yet, to provide another example, some colleges and technical schools can use these environments to help dropouts complete their GED before entering a career program.

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While virtual learning does have its advocates, there are also opponents.  Some believe that this "canned" curriculum is making it too easy for some students to walk through curriculum without actually internalizing any information.  Is this the case?  Or do these settings provide a path for the student who does not perform well in a normal face to face (F2F) setting.

As educators, one topic that often falls to the wayside, is that we daily impart information in a way that we were taught or in a way in which we learned or learn best.  But our audience is composed of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners who may not do well in certain settings.  Some argue that this is the very reason many students fail in a normal F2F setting.  Take for instance the kinesthetic child who is expected to sit in a F2F class in which the instructor lectures and writes on the board from bell to bell.  This child will most likely tune out the instructor and begin causing havoc because they can't sit still.  Kinesthetic learners often learn best by "doing", even if that means typing on a keyboard - this keeps their hands busy.

The example above is just one of many. But is the virtual learning environment a solution for everyone?  What are your thoughts?