Educators have long relied on virtual instruction. But in the majority of situations, it wasn’t the norm. After the COVID pandemic hit, virtual learning became a critical component of instruction for everyone from kindergarten to adult education. 

Many educators and students fumbled at first, learning how to navigate Zoom or Google Meet. Eventually, though, everyone adjusted and accepted online instruction as a normal part of life. Virtual learning may not always be the preference for continuing and professional educators but it is hard to deny the practicality and enhanced accessibility. 

Pros of Virtual Learning 

One of the greatest benefits of offering virtual learning is the ability to reach even more participants. The convenience factor is high. Participants enrolling in continuing education programs don’t have to factor in transportation costs and commute times. They may not need to find child care or stress about rushing from school pick up to class and back home to make dinner. 

For many participants, they are able to fit continuing education courses into their existing schedules and responsibilities. As a result, they’re more likely to sign up for courses. Furthering their education or learning a new skill feels more realistic. 

Cons of Virtual Learning 

Probably the biggest challenge of virtual learning is keeping everyone engaged and connected. Zoom fatigue, distractions, and the difficulty in feeding off non-verbal cues and facial expressions make virtual learning tough. 

Instructors have had to rethink their approach to teaching in a virtual world. Participants have had to adapt learning via screens. That can be exhausting for participants who spend their workday on a computer and then spend their evenings in virtual classrooms. 

Instructors need to be mindful of these challenges and plan accordingly. Some tips for instructors: 

  • Take the pulse of your participants. Find out if people are feeling drained after a long week or a day of Zoom meetings. Adjust accordingly by adding an extra break or time for discussion. 
  • Build in plenty of breaks. It’s harder for participants to stay focused in virtual learning environments. Plan for more frequent, shorter breaks (3-5 minutes) so participants can grab some water, use the restroom or just divert their eyes from the computer screen for a couple of minutes. 
  • Pause for engagement. It’s not as easy to raise your hand in a virtual classroom, so stop periodically to allow for questions and comments. 
  • Use break-out rooms. Split your classroom into small groups via the break-out room feature. This allows participants to have conversations and get to know each other.
  • Share your expectations. Let participants know if you want them to join class via their computer (versus a phone or tablet) and if you want them to turn on video. Encourage them to minimize distractions (phones, emails, pets, etc) so they can stay on task and focused.  

Almost all participants and instructors agree in-person instruction is the ideal method for learning. But, we now realize that’s now always possible. And, we’ve seen there are some true benefits to virtual learning. 

Our task now is not choosing one or the other, but figuring out how best to blend the two options so it’s most beneficial for our continuing education programs and our students. 

Join GCEA to stay up on the latest best practices for integrating virtual learning into your program.