Traditional and Virtual Classrooms – What's the Difference?

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The question of which teaching methodology is better, traditional or virtual, is always a puzzling one. Traditional classroom teaching methodologies are well-tested, and the environment most of us grew up in, but they have some major limitations. Virtual classrooms, on the other hand, are new and high tech. Yet they’re also pretty experimental.

This article offers a comparative study between both teaching methodologies. The goal isn’t to sell you on completely replacing traditional classrooms. We’re not there yet. Instead, it’s to help you make informed decisions on how virtual classrooms offer a creative adjunct to distance and traditional programs.

Traditional classroom

Virtual Classroom

Class timing

  • Schedule is fixed and pre-decided. Students and teachers have little say in this decision.
  • Schedule can be flexible, according to the needs of both teacher and students.
  • Class duration is fixed and usually not extendable, as the next class waits to use the classroom.
  • Class duration is easily extendable, instructor and student time permitting.
  • While extra classes can be scheduled, they’re often impractical and usually result in low attendance
  • Schedule extra classes at your convenient time and study from the luxury of home.

Learner groups

  • Students can be a homogenous group, sharing overlapping social circles and customs.
  • Students can be a heterogeneous group, even global, with a variety of non-intersecting (and perhaps conflicting) social circles and customs.
  • Students typically fall within a similar age, profession, or academic background.
  • Student composition may vary greatly in age, profession, and academic background.

Teaching methodology

  • Classes are typically teacher–driven and teacher-centric.
  • Classes can be technology-driven and learner-centric, with the teacher as a facilitator. Teachers have better teaching tools to effectively engage learners. Virtual classrooms allow students more freedom to create, experiment, explore and steer the class. This freedom can produce improved student performance.
  • Traditional teaching tools are used, such as lecture notes, charts, blackboard writing, showing physical models, laboratory experiments, etc
  • Modern teaching tools are used, such as multimedia, animation, 3D modeling, virtual, etc.
  • Learning environment can be dull and fun in class is kept to a minimum to avoid disciplinary issues.*
  • Learning environment can be stimulating and fun. Moderation tools allow the teacher to easily control the class, just in case things get out of hand!
Learning environment is greatly subjective to teacher. However, the point here stresses on the tools available to teachers enhance the environment.

Collaboration in learning

  • Teacher and students collaborate in the physical classroom.
  • Teachers and students collaborate online via audio, video, and text chat.
  • It’s hard to address the needs of different levels of learners in a single class.  If there aren’t additional resources available for groups such as slower or gifted students, they often have to make do with a one-size-fits-all average class.
  • It’s easier to work with different learner types. Divide a single virtual classroom into breakout sessions, and let students of different levels work at their own pace, while the teacher moderates and facilitates.
  • Usually one teacher per class. Difficult to bring in guest speakers due to physical and travel constraints.
  • Easier to involve multiple teachers, and to bring in guest speakers from anywhere in the world.
  • Mostly single subject learning due to space and scheduling constraints.
  • Inter-disciplinary and off-beat subjects easy to teach and learn, thanks to lack of space and fewer scheduling constraints.

Evaluation

  • Evaluation involves taking tests, and handing in manually-graded assignments. Time-consuming and  results are slow.
  • Automated evaluation conducted through online tests. Results are quick, accurate, and completely transparent. Generate feedback through online polls and immediate results so that further class learning is steered accordingly.

Recording

  • Class is held, and if you forget to note something down or can’t attend, you’ve missed it.
  • Classes are recorded, including audio, video and even screen. Students can review the instructor’s exact explanation and methods, and administrators can review both the instructor’s and students’ performance.

Common distractions

  • Common distractions include breaks, student interruptions, and administrative details.
  • Common distractions include internet problems, and students indulging in other online activities.

Cost

  • Setting up classroom infrastructure is expensive.
  • A computer, a basic Internet connection, a headphone, and a web camera (optional) are less expensive.
  • Buses, cars, and other travel methods have to be engaged to get students to and from school.
  • No travel costs. Teach and learn from anywhere.
  • Difficult for professionals to attend courses for professional development, due to work and other commitments making it impossible to find something that fits their schedule and location.
  • Professionals can take classes from home, anytime (even late nights or early mornings). Technology Based Training (TBT) yields a time savings of 35-45% over traditional classroom instruction.
  • Classrooms need water, electricity, etc.
  • Virtual Classroom is green teaching, saves paper, and any other such costs.
  • Overhead results in high fees for a course in a physical school.

To conclude I would say that each methodology has its pros and cons. Delivering the best programs to our students might entail a smart combination of both traditional and online instruction. Blended learning is the way to go.

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Gitanjali Banerjee studied International Relations from JNU, worked as a teacher, and then moved on to follow her heart. Juggled with freelance writing and blogging. She blogs avidly, loves to travel, read and cook. She used to be a writer at WizIQ.

16 Comments

  • Reply October 22, 2011

    Wilmer Ramones

    Excellent Post!!!! nothing else to say…. Excellent!!!
    by the way congrats for your new blog, if this is the first, I’m looking forward for the next.

  • Reply October 22, 2011

    Kalyan Chattopadhyay

    Many thanks for your blog. Any such comparative study always has the inherent danger of being simplistic and generalised. My views on the following points are somewhat different from yours:

    1. I would like to distinguish between face to face class in physical space and live online class in virtual space here, otherwise lots of confusions will emerge from what we mean by ‘traditional’ and ‘virtual’. For example, ‘traditional’ can have all the facilities of the interactions in the virtual space. By this I mean we can be in a physical class and we can facilitate interactions both in f2f and on-line spaces (i.e blended). Also ‘virtual’ spaces may include immersive virtual environments like Second Life, Reaction Grid, Active Worlds etc.

    1. Learner groups are hardly homogeneous in f2f contexts, and here homogeneity should not be defined in terms of age, profession, or academic background.It should include learning styles and learning preferences of the group. This is equally true about the live online class. Virtual class attendees can be anonymous which is not possible in f2f.

    2. You have argued that classes are “typically teacher–driven and teacher-centric” in ‘traditional’ set up. The case is not so always. There are many teachers who seek to facilitate learners’ autonomy by adopting learner-centred methodology. I have watched many classes on WizIQ which are “typically teacher–driven and teacher-centric”. So my argument would be that it depends on the teacher/instructor whether a class will be ‘teacher-centric’ or ‘learner-centred’.

    3. Regarding “Modern teaching tools…. such as multimedia, animation, 3D modeling, virtual” etc used in Virtual class, I would say that the term ‘modern’ in this context is a bit slippery as digital technologies are morphing and changing almost everyday. The tools you find in WizIQ or in other virtual set up can be availed in face to face classes too. I mean you can have IWB, LCD projection system etc. Now the point here is cost You have studied that later though). The cost of availing these tools through is minimal whereas you need to make investment to buy and maintain those teaching tools for your class in f2f2 mode.

    4. I find your statement, “Learning environment can be dull and fun in class is kept to a minimum to avoid disciplinary issues” is a sweeping generalisation. There are many studies which suggest that students mostly prefer the ‘blended’ approach ( I mean combination of face-to-face (F2F) instruction with computer-mediated (CM) instruction) which means that they very much enjoy learning in f2f contexts and enjoy contact with the faculty in real life. Also who can ignore the fact that even in live online set up we need to moderate the discussion to maintain some sort of discipline. So ‘disciplinary issues’ are always there in any mode.

    Finally, I think a class in WizIQ has the following benefits which you have missed in your blog:

    offers greater focus on peer to peer learning
    moves from transmission model to constructivist one
    allows the use of a wide range of instructional strategies

    • Reply October 24, 2011

      Elena

      Excellent points, Kalyan! I would only add that the “vs.” bit is, in my opinion, totally unnecessary; in fact, it is exactly the “vs.” bit which invites generalisations and obscures the fact that no matter what kind of classroom we happen to be in, we bring our attitudes, perceptions and expectations regarding teaching and learning. No amount of technology can stop someone from playing the sage on the stage (here is a funny take on that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-5mbwiCpW8 ).
      To sum it up, we are lucky to be living in interesting times and we can have great experiences as teachers and students, providing we make the best choices – there is so much on offer now!

      • Reply November 1, 2011

        Gitanjali Banerjee

        Hi Elena,

        Thanks for sharing the video, it’s a good take on the subject. I have tried to handle this article objectively. Definitely a human teacher can never be replaced, however, technology can make the difference in delivery.

    • Reply November 1, 2011

      Gitanjali Banerjee

      Hi Kalyan,

      Firstly thanks for spending your valuable time. You’ve raised valid points, and added a perspective to the discussion.
      I completely agree to your point 2 on teacher -driven and teacher -centric. This is the reason that I emphasized at the end of Teaching Methodology point that “Learning environment is greatly subjective to teacher. However, the point here stresses on the tools available to teachers enhance the environment.” So, it is the tool that gives teacher an edge and virtual classroom is that kind of tool.

      Again your point 4 observes a valid point. I have mentioned both at he beginning and at the end of the article that blended learning is the way to go and virtual classroom is a good supplemental tool to enhance overall teaching- learning environment.

      Regarding the homogeneity point, the stress is on global. Yes, an important perspective on anonymity though….interesting, and this made me thinking, how good is anonymity in teaching -learning, would like to think on this….

      The WizIQ benefits point that you have raised, I really appreciate, would be discussing them in another post, soon….

  • Reply October 23, 2011

    Roxana

    Excellent Post!!! I’ll show it to my sts at The Teacher training College!
    Thanks a BUNCH! :)

    • Reply November 1, 2011

      Gitanjali Banerjee

      It’s good to hear that you liked the post. Let me know Roxana, what is your student’s take on this. Its always refreshing to listen to new perspectives….

  • Reply October 23, 2011

    Roxana

    I really Love this Post, I’ll show it to my sts at The Teacher training College! Thanks a BUNCH! :)

  • Reply October 25, 2011

    Sukhpreet

    very well written…thanks for sharing :)

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  • Reply November 2, 2011

    Remzi

    Excellent comparison.Thanks.

  • Reply November 23, 2011

    George Wright

    Nice post I like it keep them coming :)

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  • [...] Traditional and Virtual Classrooms – What’s the Difference? « WizIQ Blog Source: http://www.wiziq.com [...]

  • Reply January 10, 2013

    ayushi

    thnxxx a lot in helping in my debate

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