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What is a virtual classroom?

Online learning programs involve virtual classrooms, which are enabled by a webcam or video conferencing camera, video conferencing software, and an instructor and students working together. In this post, we’ll dig into everything you need to know about virtual classrooms, whether you’re a prospective student or a virtual educator.


Virtual classroom definition

A virtual classroom is an online teaching and learning environment where teachers and students can present course materials, engage and interact with other members of the virtual class, and work in groups together. The key distinction of a virtual classroom is that it takes place in a live, synchronous setting. Online coursework can involve the viewing of pre-recorded, asynchronous material, but virtual classroom settings involve live interaction between instructors and participants.

Virtual classroom layout

So what does a virtual classroom look like? Virtual classrooms can vary in appearance depending on the software or platform being used, but they generally share some common features. Here are a few typical features of virtual classrooms:

  • Video conferencing interface: The video conferencing interface is the main area where the teacher and students can see and hear each other. The teacher’s video feed is usually displayed prominently, while the student’s video feeds are typically arranged in a grid or sidebar. The video conferencing interface is the main place where the teacher can moderate student participation and also allows the teacher to record the sessions (and manage those recordings).
  • Chat panel: The chat panel allows students to text chat with each other and the teacher. This can be a helpful way to ask questions, share ideas, and participate in class discussions.
  • Whiteboard or presentation area: This area is where the teacher can display learning materials in the form of documents, slide decks, or multimedia files. Students can also use the whiteboard to collaborate on projects or take notes. Some virtual classrooms even have dedicated whiteboard cameras to ensure everyone on the call can clearly see the whiteboard. These areas enrich the learning experience with screen-sharing and virtual whiteboard features.
  • Breakout rooms: This feature allows the teacher to divide the participants into breakout rooms – which the instructor can join – for discussions or activities.
  • File-sharing: This allows students to share files with each other and the teacher. File-sharing can also be helpful for handing in assignments or sharing resources.
  • Polling or quiz features: Polling and quizzes allow the teacher to assess students’ understanding of the material quickly.


Aside from the standard elements of virtual classrooms, there are also a few cutting-edge features, such as:

  • Edtech platforms: Edtech platforms, also known as educational technology platforms, are software applications or online services that are designed to support and enhance teaching and learning. For virtual classrooms, edtech platforms can be used to create and deliver interactive learning experiences, manage student data and assessments, and facilitate communication between teachers and students.
  • 360-cameras: Having a 360 degree conferencing camera helps students stay engaged with the classroom and allows them to see the whole physical space where the teacher is teaching.
  • Virtual reality (VR): VR allows students to immerse themselves in the learning material.
  • Augmented reality (AR): AR allows students to overlay digital information onto the real world.
  • Gamification: Gamification uses game-like elements to make learning more engaging.


Virtual classroom examples

There are a few different types of programs that are delivered via virtual classrooms, the most common of which we’ll explain below:

1. MOOCs

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are virtual classes that are available for anyone to enroll and participate in. MOOC providers offer different types of courses. Some are accredited, and some are not; some are offered through universities, and some are not; some are free, and some require tuition, and some are offered with live virtual classroom work and some are not. Examples of MOOCs include courses offered through Coursera and edX.

2. Bootcamps

Bootcamps are another example of courses that can take place using virtual classrooms. Bootcamps for web development, graphic design, and data analytics (among many others) are offered in virtual or in-person settings and provide students with concentrated education and training in an industry they’re trying to break into or advance in. Examples of bootcamp providers include Thinkful, General Assembly, and Galvanize.

3. Online degree programs

Online degree programs are offered by colleges and universities to deliver their degree programs in a virtual environment. Using online program management companies or their own internal resources, schools can recruit online students for their degree programs that are delivered into a webcam instead of a lecture hall. Many different schools offer online degree programs – here’s a comprehensive list of accredited programs.

Virtual classrooms vs. hybrid classrooms vs. traditional classrooms

Virtual classrooms, hybrid classrooms, and traditional classrooms are all different types of learning environments that can be used to deliver education. Each type of classroom has its own unique benefits and drawbacks. Now that we know more about virtual classrooms, let’s see how the other types compare to them.

Hybrid classrooms

  • Hybrid classrooms are a combination of online and in-person learning. This means that students will spend some of their time learning online and some of their time learning in person.
  • The exact mix of online and in-person learning will vary from class to class. However, hybrid classrooms typically involve students meeting in person once or twice a week.
  • Hybrid classrooms can be a good option for students who want the benefits of both online and in-person learning. They can also be a good option for students who have busy schedules or who live far away from campus.


Traditional classrooms

  • Traditional classrooms are a completely in-person learning environment. This means that students must attend class in person in order to learn.
  • Traditional classrooms typically involve the teacher lecturing to the class, students taking notes, and students participating in discussions.
  • Traditional classrooms can be a good option for students who learn best in a structured environment. They can also be a good option for students who enjoy the social interaction of being in a classroom.


Ultimately, the best type of classroom for a particular student will depend on their individual needs and preferences.

Virtual classroom benefits

1. Virtual classrooms enable distance learning for students

Virtual classrooms are undoubtedly much easier for students to learn new subjects and skills. Online learning makes it possible for working professionals, people with busy home lives, or people with fewer financial resources to learn new skills and grow their knowledge.

2. Virtual classrooms make it easier for instructors to share and monetize training

Similarly, MOOCs, online learning platforms, bootcamps, and online degree programs make it possible for institutions and educators to share and monetize their training and teaching without having to travel to different locations to do so.

3. Virtual classrooms help established universities grow brand presence

For colleges and universities that are trying to grow their brand presence and attract more students, offering online courses delivered through virtual classrooms can be a smart way to reach more students who aren’t in their geographic area.

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