Guest Author - Patricia Pedraza-Nafziger
There are specific characteristics that create an effective classroom learning environment such as collaborating with fellow students, engaging students to question the instructor, and using technology to retain studentsí interest. The recipe for a successful learning environment is comprised of visual aids, communication (both speaking and listening), group participation, and demonstrations. Come to think of it, this method of learning applies not only to classroom settings but also to corporate settings. For example, if you are trying to explain to upper management the intricacies of how you arrived at a budget plan for a project, you do not show them spreadsheets of data detailing the specifics of how you arrived at the figure. You provide them instead with a visualization using simplified graphs and charts accompanied by a well-thought-out presentation that explains how you arrived at the figure. This is one of the concepts behind the use of Business Intelligence Systems in the corporate world, which transform raw data into meaningful and useful information.
The same methodical thinking process needs to be examined while teaching in a virtual setting. This is not an easy task because, unlike a corporate setting where we have a general idea of who our target audience is, we may not know who we are teaching in a virtual instructional setting. Today, many virtual class environments are comprised of individuals from different generations and from many different countries. Providing information to students in these classroom environments requires the use of many teaching methodologies to ensure that if one method fails for a student, there is another method to fill the gap.
In a virtual educational environment, collaboration is essential, both between students and with the instructor. The more avenues of communication available to the students, the more options they have for learning. University classrooms are typically designed so that students face the instructors, with the expectation that the instructor will provide most of the knowledge needed to fulfill class requirements. In a virtual setting, students do not have this option; rather, they utilize discussion boards to meet fellow students, learn about the backgrounds of their peers through first-week introductions, and gain a general idea of the knowledge available from their virtual classroom environment.. At any time, any of these students can send inquiries to any of the students to ask them about their particular area of experience. The virtual setting provides a more approachable atmosphere, which is conducive to networking with strangers who one may not otherwise meet in person.
Understanding your audience is one of the keys to presenting material in a fashion relatable to students, but it is equally important for the eLearning student to realize that the instructor is not the only person he or she can learn from. Finding ways to encourage engagement between students increases the depth of learning and ultimately increases their knowledge of the effectiveness of virtual collaboration in the learning process.
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