On the surface, both an online meeting tool and an online classroom look the same, but there are some fundamental differences in the use of each of these tools that, although subtle, can make a big difference in the user-experience. Let's explore the differences...
Hierarchy of participants
Online meetings, like physical meetings are mainly among peers, such as between customer and marketer, among team members etc., so there is no sense of hierarchy. In other words, the participants see each other eye to eye. Classroom scenarios are pretty much hierarchical in nature where teacher-student relationship follows a tacit guideline as the teacher has ‘control’ over the classroom.
Difference of business drivers
In a meeting, although there is a set agenda, most people don’t follow it strictly and so meetings tend to be longer than expected. In such cases the participants also tend to have something to show that they had not planned for. But in classroom scenarios, schedules are well set, content prepared beforehand and in many cases, the same content is used for months before it’s changed. Further, the economics of teaching business is often based on the number of hours taught, therefore driving teachers to prepare well in advance for each class. So planning is an important part of teaching in a virtual classroom.
As an asynchronous content creation tool
In a classroom scenario, whatever is taught, if recorded for playback as-it-happened can become a powerful content creating mechanism, say for example, video recording of a university's (face-to-face) lecture. Whereas in an online meeting scenario, although minutes of the meeting are important, there is seldom any need to replay the entire meeting the way it happened. So recording capability becomes important in online virtual classroom tools.
Presentation content vs presenter
In an online meeting scenario, content is more important than the presenter--usually a sales person or a team member. In a teaching scenario, content is only a tool for a teacher that she/he uses to facilitate learning. In other words, online meeting tools are content centric whereas a virtual classroom needs to have content capabilities but should be teacher centric.
In online meetings, whiteboarding is not that important since all the presenter needs it for is annotating or highlighting certain areas of the content displayed. Now imagine a Math or a Science class without an adequate whiteboard!
Tolerance to technical and support challenges
In online meetings, the business use case is such that you can walk someone (say a corporate customer) through the installation process and overcome other technical challenges or even IT guys can come in and help. In teaching scenarios, that is not possible since there usually are no IT guys that can help and the customers are not paying enough to cover the cost of technical support. So technical challenges are not acceptable in online teaching.
Number of participants
Online teaching scenarios could be of one-to-one tutoring, teaching a small group of students or even a large webinar consisting of 500 participants. The interactivity that the teacher can afford in all these scenarios varies greatly. This variation is not typically observed in an online meeting scenario where there usually are 4 to 5 participants with high degree of interaction.
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