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Eradicating Nonsensical Terms

Take the “Virtual” Out of Virtual Learning

December 27, 2011 - After a recent Google search for the term ‘virtual learning’, we got to scrutinizing the current usage of the term.

On the one hand, the search led to articles like “25 Awesome Virtual Learning Experiences,” which truly offered a virtual experience by providing links to tour-like experiences such as interactive 360° panoramas of the 7 Wonders of the World and a Rare Book Room that allows you to read hundreds of digitized copies of historical books. In this instance, the word “virtual” accurately describes the experience.

On the other hand, the other Google search results fell far short of the goal. We found most of the other items used "virtual" as a modifier to describe the learning itself.

What is VIRTUAL about learning?

Is it kinda learning, but kinda not? Is that like being virtually dead? The issue is that while a classroom or a community can be virtual, learning is not, it’s real. It’s especially troubling to hear the term -- virtual learning -- used in academia. There are charter schools, academies, resource centers, and state education department systems that promote the obscure term. Are people getting paid to virtually teach? My brain virtually hurts.

A True Virtual Experience

Take for example Lyndon Baty, who has the most devastating form of PKD, polycystic kidney disease. At the time he was born, the average life span for PKD babies was two weeks to two years. Lyndon is a 15-year old who became the first kid in the U.S. to attend school via a robot last year. This past August, Sports Illustrated did a full article on the story entitled “A Boy and His Bot.”

In the article, Lyndon’s mother talked about her son’s will to live reappearing with the arrival of ‘Baty Bot’, along with 19 pounds of weight on his frail body. Baty Bot is cutting-edge videoconferencing technology combined with engineering from a military robot used for bomb disposal and a hot-selling robotic vacuum cleaner. The robot provides Lyndon as near as possible to a live classroom experience, and in this instance, it really is a virtual classroom for him. He can see around the classroom and interact with teachers and students. Lyndon learns real high school subject material.

Where to Next?

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are becoming commonplace in universities, corporate training departments, and conferences. The evolution of Distance and Blended Learning is producing valid and reliable learning models documented by growing research results.

It’s not about vaporware or the magic behind the curtain. It’s not about people pretending to learn. Focus on the real results. Keep the ‘virtual’ attached to the environment, not the person.

- Ellen Milnes

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