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What are Virtual Learning Experiences?

What are Virtual Learning Experiences? Read this article to find out how you can use technology to share your exhibitions and taonga.

COVID-19 continues to have a major impact on us all. Public health measures in Aotearoa New Zealand place restrictions on the way we run our learning programmes in cultural and heritage settings. Call it Virtual Learning Experience, Virtual Visit, Virtual Excursion, Digital Excursion, or something else entirely: A Virtual Learning Experience enables learners to take part in a programme from a distance.

What is a Virtual Learning Experience?

A Virtual Learning Experience VLE is a programme that allows learners to visit your site, exhibition or experience via digital technology. A VLE can either be presented in real time, or pre-recorded and viewed at any time.

Live-presented Virtual Learning Experience

The purpose of a live-presented Virtual Learning Experience is to enable learners to connect with an educator and experience learning at a culture and heritage site in real time. The educator presents to the class using an online meeting platform. By presenting live, they can address specific questions or requests from learners as they arise.

Live-presented Virtual Learning Experiences can be streamed using a handheld smartphone, or a smartphone mounted on a gimbal. They can also include a combination of images and pre-recorded videos selected to address the needs and interests of the group.

Learners can interact during a live-presented VLE by writing questions in the chat box or by using the ‘raise a hand’ function to ask a question verbally. They can also take part in interactive tasks, and receive feedback on their work.

Advantages:

  • The set up cost is relatively low: The minimum set up includes a smartphone, a gimbal and the use of an online streaming platform. Depending on the design of your programme, a free account can be sufficient.
  • The educator can easily tailor and adapt the Virtual Learning Experience in response to learner questions and requests; e.g., pause to stay on a topic for longer, or zoom in closer to view a detail of an exhibit.
  • In contrast to physical visits, educators are completely in control of what learners will see and how long for.

Disadvantages:

  • You need a reliable internet connection.
  • Visitors to your space might appear in your videos, block the view, add to the background noise.
  • You can pre-record videos outside opening hours to limit distractions, but this can be expensive.
  • Learners have no control over what they see.

For more information, check out Introduction to Virtual Explorer Tours, a TPTMT webinar from March 2021 presented by Donald James and Laura Jones.

Pre-recorded Virtual Learning Experiences

A pre-recorded Virtual Learning Experience is created and filmed once and can be viewed multiple times by learners. All content is pre-recorded, and instructions can be provided on how to interact with it. A pre-recorded VLE can be made available to learners at any time, even after the exhibit it was filmed within has closed. Different learning styles can be accommodated.

Advantages:

  • Learning is accessible at any time.
  • The limited lifespan of an exhibition can be expanded for multiple audiences.
  • Learners have control over what to view, they can rewind the learning.

Disadvantages:

  • Recording the content requires technical expertise.
  • Technical development takes time and can be expensive.
  • Learners do not have access to a live educator.

The team behind the Tai Moana Tai Tangata virtual tour at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery discuss their experience here: Developing a Virtual Gallery Tour

In 2017, researchers from Otago University conducted an evaluation of early Virtual Learning Experiences. They were positively surprised by their effectiveness and potential for scalability. Findings included that VLEs provided access to exhibitions and taonga some learners would normally not be able to access, that they were engaging, informative and enjoyable, and that learners were enthusiastic in their engagement. Read the full Evaluation Report of Virtual Excursions here.

Over to you

Have you taken part in a Virtual Learning Experience before? Use the comment section below to tell us what worked well and what needed further improvements.

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Learning During and After COVID-19: Developing Online Education Programmes

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