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The Pros & Cons of Different Virtual Learning Environments

Not sure which virtual learning model would best serve your child? The choice can certainly be challenging, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Read on for the most common arguments for and against the three most common virtual learning environment formats.

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If you thought deciding whether purchasing a spiral or marble notebook while back to school shopping was hard, you may feel disoriented with all of the options distance learning offers. How do you decide which virtual learning environment will be kindest to your child? The decision can vary quite a bit depending on your child’s grade level and institution, amongst other factors. Hanover Research recently published a report on the best practices and models in virtual classrooms. Below are the pros and cons of the three most common virtual learning models.

Web-based Education

Web-Based education constitutes the majority of virtual learning courses. Web-based education often looks like a “portal” that students log into, and where they’ll complete curricula modularly. Often, web-based courses offer a one-stop-shop for resources, like quizzes, eTextbooks, and correspondence between classmates.


Web-based education is generally highly structured and organized, with many of the most frequent student needs being accessible directly on the website. Moreover, due to the high specificity of course offerings, web-based education typically employs the use of multimedia. During click-throughs, learners are stimulated with short videos, benchmark exercises, and auditory components. By virtue of its web-baseness, the site is likely accessible world-wide, truly putting the “distance” in “distance learning.” 


Despite how closely tailored web-based courses often are, they aren’t perfect. First and foremost, this course structure is highly dependent on reliable internet access. Although today most digital learners can expect needing access to the internet often, web-based education requires the internet at all times. Moreover, web-based education is seldom configured to work on anything but laptops and computers. Typically, web-based courses are not compatible with tablet devices, nor phones, so despite being geographically freeing, expect to be tethered to a computer. 

Internet Video Conferences (Live Classes)


Internet video conferencing offers the pleasure of face-to-face interactions and the sincerity of real-time communication. Internet video conferencing technologies include platforms such as Zoom, or Skype. Another strong advantage is that students get to interact with one another, as well as with their teacher, a key factor in online learning efficacy (link blog post 2 here). Internet video conferencing has recently skyrocketed in popularity and offers many of the same joys traditional schooling does.


This past school year, you may have become familiar with the downsides of video conferencing, but I’ll touch upon them anyway. Perhaps most infuriating, video-conferencing can quickly become cumbersome with internet connectivity issues. Classes hosted via video conference are contingent on clear audio and video feeds, and with even slight lag, distraction and difficulty are never far off. 

Videotaped or Pre-recorded Lessons


Many students finished their school year consuming filmed video lessons from their teachers. Most of the strengths of videotaped or pre-recorded lessons are the same as those of internet video conferencing: the humanness of hearing and seeing the instructor, and the ability to easily leverage visual tools into lessons. One advantageous distinction between videotaping and video conferencing is the flexibility of course times. Video lessons can be watched any time, giving learners a lot of wiggle room whereas video conferencing requires formal scheduling. 


Most notably, prerecorded classes are largely one-way with respect to communication. Instructors send their lessons, but students may only be required to email their work, making the possibility of sincere, close interaction between a student and their peers slim. Similarly, students will likely need to formally schedule meeting times with their instructors, leaving room for calamity. Unlike live-instruction, students cannot raise their hand for help before the lesson continues. At best, students will need to contact their teacher, pausing the lesson at hand indefinitely. No less, videotaping lessons is often more difficult for instructors than live-instruction, so the quality of instruction may vary. 

Early in its evolution, distance education was largely constituted of self-taught courses with students literally mailing their assignments to teachers. Today, we have a tremendous number of technological tools for enhancing the distance learning experience. Thus, it is worth understanding the strengths and weaknesses of technologies you may encounter on your virtual journey. Ultimately, the most important thing institutions can do is work to accommodate students. Learning centers like Tip Top Brain have managed to successfully move online by listening to their students, and designing classrooms that are both comfortable and engaging.

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