Online teaching and e-learning technology comes in many shapes and sizes, from dedicated software/hardware combinations to simple tools such as wikis or mashups that can be used for multiple purposes. Web conferencing technology has many uses and is often incorporated into e-learning and training initiatives both in the classroom and in the workplace.
Technology development has made a vital difference to online learning. Video and web conferencing applications have made sure that e-learning is no longer a solitary experience. The online learning experience is that of a traditional classroom setting with the teacher and other students. There can be questions and answers in real time, student bonding and initiation of diverse learning techniques in a web conferencing format, including real time text chat and presentations.
Online learning does not require sophisticated equipment on the part of the instructor, and the student can usually access the course with an ordinary web browser. A dedicated telephone line or a VoIP connection through the PC can be used to connect in real time with the students or employees. The web conferencing software in itself may not provide voice connectivity, focusing instead on the presentation, but interactive conversation can easily be added through a phone bridge, or through using a web conferencing system that incorporates VoIP technology. Chat, email, and other interactive tools add to the experience. Application sharing is another common web conferencing tool that adds value, allowing multiple parties to share an application. Remote control is also often used with web conferencing in an instructional capacity, to allow an instructor to take over the desktop of a student.
Furthermore, session recording proves valuable in creating an archive of training sessions for later reference. Typically, web conferencing software is either fully browser-based, requiring no downloads or software installs on the part of the end users, or deployed through a thin client model that requires only a minor download that can be obtained on-the-fly.
Cisco’s WebEx is one of the most prominent web conferencing systems, which like most, is available through subscription. The company’s MeetMeNow adds to the array of options with a tool meant for individual use. Another commonly-used tool is Adobe’s Acrobat Connect, which unlike WebEx, is available or both Mac and Windows. It includes the ability to bring in a webcam feed, and includes telephone conferencing facilities.
GoToMeeting from Citrix is another example of a very full-featured web conferencing system that is often used in e-learning scenarios. GoToMeeting includes a teleconferencing facility, session recording, and whiteboarding.
For educational institutions and corporations which already subscribe to web conferencing services, this technology presents an easy transition to online teaching and e-learning without having to make a large investment in dedicated software and e-learning systems; allowing the organization to get started right away and experiment with e-learning before moving towards a full-fledged learning management system.