Virtual Learning Environment
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A virtual learning environment is a web-based learning system for enhancing the educational experience through the integration of computer-based and virtual activities. A virtual learning environment calls for teaching with technology and has a set of teaching and learning tools. These may include, but are not limited to:
- Internet based information repositories
- Blackboard systems
- Curriculum mapping software
- Student tracking
- Electronic communication
- Internet links to outside curriculum resources
- Online support for both teacher and student
In a virtual learning environment, students are contributors as well as learners, as both students and teachers contribute to the creation of the virtual learning space. One potential scenario of a virtual learning environment is the creation of a virtual space in which the teacher posts a question or posts a theory to which the students can post replies, thoughts, opinions, follow-up questions, etc. Virtual learning environments offer the opportunity of integrating technology into learning activities.
Non-Classroom Based Virtual Learning
Virtual learning environments are not merely on-line, or virtual learning courses. A virtual learning environment can be just one component of an educational curricula, and can serve as an adjunct to in-class learning. A virtual learning environment is a virtual space for real interaction and discussion. Virtual learning environments are also not synonymous with virtual campuses, as the latter provides solely university or college-levels courses while the former does not restrict the scope to any particular level.
According to a recent report by ACTeN (Anticipating Content Technology Needs)-a company that continually monitors the European virtual content industry-the new wave of Internet-based educational tools will "custom fit work schedules, budget, and training preferences" and will be used as self-service applications personalized for each individual). One of these tools is simulations, which many companies are beginning to recognize as invaluable to efficient and cost-effective ways of virtual learning. Similar to the idea of in-flight simulation programs, virtual learning simulations enable companies to train employees on new products and services without costly mistakes. A newly-hired support technician could, for example, engage in challenging "real-world" scenarios in a manufactured (or safe) setting. This type of education, in a sense, removes the teacher from the process, allowing students to learn first-hand from their mistakes in order to acquire the necessary skills more quickly. More companies will soon utilize simulations for screening a prospective employee to see how he/she would handle certain situations. Over the next few years, there should be a proliferation of companies that design products or offer services that will enhance this educational medium.
The Future of Virtual Learning
The future of virtual learning is also leading towards incorporating multi-media to further optimize the learning process and even turn online education into a form of entertainment and may be one of the most effective teaching methods for todays students. ACTeN reports that the future trend is towards "digital convergence," and that virtual learning will utilize "the capabilities of telephone, radio, television, and other interactive devices". In theory, a person could watch a cooking show on television, access one of the recipes via a wireless hand-held device (e.g., iPhone, iPad etc...), and participate in an interactive cooking demonstration complete with a voice-over narration and virtual assistant. Teachers and trainers, in their current online roles of conducting virtual classrooms, would become a thing of the past while students would use technology to become interactive self-directive learners.
In the movie, "The Matrix" (1999), the main character Neo used interactive simulation programs to master skills, like performing karate moves and speaking foreign languages, in just minutes. If virtual learning continues to evolve at a rapid pace, these capabilities might not seem so far-fetched. As e-learning becomes more mainstream, the educational process will over the next five years become more rooted in technologies, business methods, and operational processes, ultimately allowing users to transcend beyond just learning information but experiencing it. Instead of sitting down at a computer and consciously working through an online software training program, the person could unknowingly train himself just by using the software. The end results would be a faster learning curve and less cost to the company.