Re-evaluating the Need for Authentic E-Learning Platforms

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of videoconferencing apps has surged exponentially, given that, social distancing being the norm. The video conferencing app Zoom also made headlines and saw an astounding number of downloads on both Google Play and Apple App Store.

As per the recent report, Zoom valuation is estimated at $35 billion as of April 2020. The fortune of its founder and CEO, Eric Yuan, also shot up by 112% in April 2020 [15]. This is attributed to the surge in the number of subscribers worldwide – including 90,000 schools from across 20 countries – in the month of March 2020. However, Zoom has been marred with some serious allegation concerning its security and privacy loopholes. The company was quick to get into damage-control mode. It was followed by a statement from its founder and CEO, Eric Yuan, who apologized to millions of its users worldwide and vowed to address privacy and security concerns [7]. Successively, the company has updated its privacy statements as well – aimed at pacifying the mounting criticisms – both from institutional and educational subscribers.

In the backdrop of these developments, a number of questions arise. First, what makes Zoom so popular? Of course, we cannot deny that Zoom has re-invented the way people connect and communicate across time and space. Yet, is it the only videoconferencing app out there worth the name? A closer look at the videoconferencing app Zoom also raises some doubt if it is the best platform for educational use. Is Zoom even an authentic e-Learning platform? Well, it would not be out-rightly wrong to state that Zoom is not an educational platform worth the name. Quite a good number of e-Learning platforms and videoconferencing apps are available that one can opt for, instead of Zoom. It would be interesting to dig deeper into these details to understand their pros and cons, and most importantly – the value-addition that comes with it.

What is an authentic e-learning platform?

One might say that an authentic e-learning platform is an extension of the conventional classroom teaching-learning module aided by technology. From a technological perspective, an e-learning platform constitutes a central technological component of online learning infrastructure. No single definition clearly defines an e-learning platform. However, the preferred terminologies are worth mentioning. According to Michael Piotrowski (2010), an authentic and actual e-learning platform is defined as an integrated system that meets six e-learning parameters: creation, communication, organization, delivery, collaboration, and assessment [11](p. 30).

In essence, an authentic and complete e-learning platform is equipped with an integrated Virtual Learning Management System (VLMS). In terms of functionality, an e-learning platform provides advanced administration facilities, including – reporting, tracking, attendance, and a complete set of an integrated Learning Management System (LMS).

Zoom is not an e-learning platform worth the name

It is apparent that Zoom does not fit anywhere close to the definition of an e-learning platform. Of course, it is one of the most popular and widely used videoconferencing apps out there. Yet, to say that Zoom meets all the requirements of an e-learning platform would be outrightly wrong. Moreover, privacy and security concern against Zoom in recent times is also a serious matter altogether. The “Zoom-bombing” incidents have thrown people’s faith in the app out of the window. Such incidents are not isolated but are recurring. Zoom just happened to be at the receiving end of malicious and organized online attacks by hackers who took advantage of its vulnerable security features [5]. Whatever the case be, educational and institutional bodies should consider these past events and weight on the pros and cons of using the videoconferencing app for educational purpose.

Further, as a communication app, Zoom helps to address communication gaps by reinventing itself, it’s products offering and services that is intuitive and innovative. Its popularity is also much to do with the company’s capability to package and market its way down to the last end-users. However, Zoom and criticism are becoming inseparable – somewhat like a Siamese twin. Online education practitioners, teachers, and tutors have constantly complained that using Zoom for online tutoring is very “exhausting’. These complaints are not secluded. They are real and here to stay. Until school and institutional bodies find a way to replace Zoom with an authentic e-learning platform, the situation can turn out to be quite serious.

The need for authentic e-learning platforms

The need to re-evaluate an authentic e-learning app is now. As much as anyone would like to brush aside the “exhausting” nature of Zoom, leading news portal, BBC, have also recognized that “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoom exhaustion” is as real as it can get. The best we can do is limit its use altogether. It is also obvious that the focus required during videoconferencing is more than the conventional mode of face-to-face communication [8]. Psychologists and experts have opined similar views that constant use of Zoom and any other videoconferencing apps is likely to lead to fatigue and exhaustion [14]. Expectations, desperation, and the silent echo that are akin to videoconferencing apps can negatively embroil the mind, and drain your energy before you know it [8].

For an online tutor, the case can turn out to be much worse. Imagine handling 20 to 40 kids in one go, and the weird feeling that comes with it. Managing such a classroom via a single screen can be quite exhausting. Have you ever thought about what it might be like for the students? The situation can even turn quite chaotic especially when handling school kids. The constant need for attention and monitoring through a group meeting is quite a challenge for a teacher – even if one is not technologically challenged. During video conferencing, it would be next to impossible for a teacher to attend to every pupil’s needs – waiting for their turns to be addressed online. It is next to impossible for a teacher to make a one-to-one arrangement with the student. This might require significant time and effort, thus, hampering work-life balance. It might even lead to a significant amount of fatigue and exhaustion – not to mention frustration! If such things happen, the simple meaning of attempting to disseminate education is a complete joke. Forget about value-based based education altogether – stress and challenge of Zoom “exhaustion” will drain your energy before you can even think about education [4].

As a responsible educator, one must address these questions. Is Zoom the right platform to use for educational purposes? For starters, whether Zoom accounts created by school subscribers are free or paid, educators who are using Zoom for the online tutorials are exposing their wards to privacy and security risks. Constant use of Zoom poses a significant amount of stress, fatigue, and exhaustion to end-users, most of which are students. Sometimes, unwilling students might be forced to join Zoom online conference rooms. Zoom, which lacks the Learning Management System (LMS) and Virtual Learning Management System (VLMS) can turn out to be quite a disaster and a failure to engage student online learning outcomes. Have anyone considered the looping gaps of value-based education by relying on videoconferencing apps? At times, the case can turn out to be quite confusing – both for the teacher and the students. Conducting online classes and tutorials via Zoom is somewhat like a “pandemonium” with chaos all around. This might only contribute to teacher-students exhaustion and fatigue [4].

A shift towards value-based e-learning platforms

As a responsible educator and an online tutor, one needs to address these pertinent questions. What are Zoom’s social, moral, and cultural implications? As far as value-based education is concerned, Zoom is not an ideal and go-to platform. There is nothing unique about Zoom – leave alone education. It is not even an authentic e-learning tool, or is it? Nor was Zoom designed to address the teaching-learning gap of a conventional e-learning platform. Using Zoom in the first place could have been avoided altogether.

For online teaching purposes, one cannot rely on the Zoom app completely. First, Zoom is designed as a communication tool – an extension of a Webinar, which is a two-way communication route [9]. Still, the challenge for detailed instruction is insurmountable. It can lead to “Zoom fatigue” and “Zoom exhaustion” [4] if the way forward is not addressed constructively. Of course, webinars offer two-way communication (It is more about instruction) and webcast is a one-way communication route (content is the king). Still, there are gaps when it comes to active learning approach. Leave alone value-based education dissemination, and interactive learning. Sadly, Zoom falls into this category and the pressure on teachers is quite phenomenal to develop content and instruction that should fit just right [9]. Therefore, a strategic shift towards VLMS and LMS based e-learning platforms are recommended for value-based education.

Secondly, Zoom is not even meant to addresses online teaching-learning gaps in the conventional sense, especially when dealing with school-going children. Third, the Zoom app is nowhere close to any basic e-learning tools that are designed to address core educational programs and school curriculum aimed to enhance value-based education in a seamless and progressive e-learning environment.

Despite these shortcomings, educators are still relying on Zoom. One must ask, why Zoom instead of authentic and reliable e-learning platforms? From an educational point of view, Zoom has nothing to do with value-based education for that matter. Zoom also lacks all the basic e-learning features such as VLMS (Virtual Learning Management System), intuitive learning tools, drawing board, lesson plans, creative and readily available educational content, online attendance system, etc to name a few of them. One must also understand that the hype surrounding Zoom is all about its commercial value, rather than its core educational value. Thereby, shifting the focus to value-based and progressive online classroom teaching by adopting an authentic e-learning platform is the way forward. Of course, there are no dearths of a good number of authentic e-learning platforms.

E-Learning platforms: An authentic alternative to Zoom

There are plenty of intuitive, creative, and progressive e-learning platforms. Few of them are listed below, which serve the very purpose of e-learning and online classroom teaching.

BigBlueButton: E-learning that’s progressive and unlike Zoom

What makes BigBlueButton click is its secured and safe web and videoconferencing system that is intuitive, seamless, and fun. Developed by BigBlueButton Inc., the platform is ideal to address online teaching-learning gaps via a virtual classroom environment. Features such as real-time audio, video, chat facilities, and sharing of online learning material and screenshots make it an ideal and progressive e-learning platform.

BigBlueButton is integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) that is just right for educational purpose. Unlike Zoom, BigBlueButton is far ahead in terms of offering end-users a value-based e-learning environment. If one looks closely, it is best suited for both teachers and students. Must we say that BigBlueButton requires a moderate amount of set up? [9]. Well, to address this gap, one must also be aware that BigBlueButton is backed by quality support and much more [1].

Blackboard Collaborate – Reliable, safe and way-ahead of Zoom

Blackboard Collaborate is an ideal video conferencing, audio calling, and e-learning platform. It comes with added features such as a whiteboard that makes virtual classroom interaction fun and intuitive. Collaborating through Blackboard Collaborate online classrooms is seamless, safe, and secure.

When compared to Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate offers end-users a simplified and reliable online classroom. It also supports web conferencing. The best part – it works across multiple devices just like Zoom. However, Blackboard Collaborate is everything that Zoom is not – unmatched quality content, user-friendly interface, and loaded with feature-based educational content, material, and tool that fits the demand of today’s e-learning environment and online classroom teaching [2].

Vedamo – the best authentic E-Learning platform, unlike Zoom

Vedamo has been developed with core technology aimed to enhance value-based education. It is one of the best e-learning platforms out there, and an authentic one at that. When it comes to offering e-learning facilities to end-users, Vedamo takes the lead. Features such as virtual classrooms, videoconferencing facilities, and a learning management system (LMS) – everything can be managed right under one roof – makes it an ideal choice.

Conducting online classroom sessions with Vedamo’s progressive and user-friendly e-learning platform has never been so seamless. User-friendly interface and cloud-based storage make it an ideal online teaching-learning platform that is secure and safe. Designed to bring to life traditional learning in a virtual environment, and unlike Zoom, Vedamo allows end-users to conduct any number of online classroom teaching, interactive sessions and, recording of the sessions. The best part – it is priced competitively, yet offer significant value when it comes to setting up an e-learning environment for schools, colleges, and educational institutions [16].

Schoology – Schooling that is much better than Zoom!

Schoology is an ideal platform to set up an e-learning environment. It is developed with core technology meant to address the teaching-learning gaps. It allows end-user to create, share, and manage educational content on its platform through its learning management system (LMS). It also provides the much-needed intuitive learning tools and other product offerings for seamless collaboration and communication between the tutor and the student through its virtual office hours [13].

Unlike the case with the Zoom, Schoology’s “Power School” offers the best when it comes to online teaching-learning environment. With more than 45 million registered learners from over 80 countries, “Power School” from Schoology has everything under one roof – ideal for school and K12 learning curriculum [12].

LearnCube – Everything that Zoom is not

An award-winning e-learning platform, LearnCube, is everything that Zoom is not. It designed to make online teaching, tutoring and learning fun and seamless. As one of the most trusted e-learning platforms, LearnCube, is loaded with features such as whiteboard, audio and videoconferencing facility, classroom sessions recordings, lesson materials, and lesson plans that can be uploaded and downloaded by end-users.

Unlike Zoom, LearnCube, popularity as an e-learning platform is unmatched. With its presence in 95 countries and millions of active subscribers – that shows the value-addition that comes with LearnCube [6].

Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams are much better than Zoom

Completely relying on webcasts and webinars for e-learning purposes is not the correct approach. It is like turning a blind-eye to the authentic needs of young learners. Yet, when options are limited and constrained, Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams are much better than Zoom.

The best part – Google Classroom is developed by Google! It is a free web service meant for educational use. Managing online teaching-learning gaps is best suited in Google Classroom that offers end-users and learners a meaningful experience. Access to the app and other add-ons and extension is a simple and hassle-free experience, worth trying. Its simplified and user-friendly interface makes it more attractive as well. Increasing demand for online teaching-learning gaps made way for Google Classroom. It is a go-to platform, especially, if one cannot afford an authentic and conventional e-learning platform [3].

Further, Microsoft Teams offers a simple and unified interface for chat, call, online collaboration, and meetings. It is not that bad at all. Microsoft Teams comes from a reputable brand name. So what more can we ask for? It offers unlimited reach for the number of participants to its videoconferencing facilities. Collaborating via Microsoft team is simple and hassle-free and setting it up is easy and convenient. The best part – almost everyone has access to Windows enabled computers and allied services. This makes the transition a hassle-free experience for end-users in terms of having access to software and other collaboration tools [10].

Conclusion

The popularity of the Zoom app settled one debate – it made quite a difference in the way people communicate and collaborate. However, in the field of education, the Zoom app is not the go-to platform. Of course, Zoom addressed the communication gaps constrained by time, space, and distance. It is also far ahead in terms of the number of subscribers and active users. Yet, it was not built or developed for core educational purpose. This is why educators need to remind themselves if the Zoom is worthy at all?

It is apparent that security and privacy vulnerabilities are a serious matters and cannot be avoided in today’s digital era – yet, that cannot be an excuse for Zoom. First, there was a “Zoom-bombing” then there comes the case of “Zoom exhaustion” and “Zoom fatigue” and what is next that is taking education for a ride – zooming around in circles of confusion and uncertainty?

As we move towards a more progressive and inclusive path, where remote education is considered the norms –  the need to have a vision and a strategic one at that is of paramount importance. Think and consider for the sake of young minds that is yet to bloom!

References/Sources

  1. (2020). BigBlueButton.org. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from BigBlueButton: https://bigbluebutton.org/
  2. (2020). Blackboard. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from http://www.blackboard.com: https://www.blackboard.com/teaching-learning/collaboration-web-conferencing/blackboardcollaborate
  3. Google Classroom. (2020). Google Classroom. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Google Classroom: https://edu.google.com/products/classroom/
  4. Julia Sklar. (2020, April 24). ‘Zoom fatigue’ is taxing the brain. Here’s why that happens. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Natonalgeographic.com: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-zoom-fatigue-is-taxing-the-brain-here-is-why-that-happens/
  5. Kate O’Flaherty. (2020, March 27). Beware Zoom Users: Here’s How People Can ‘Zoom-Bomb’ Your Chat. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Forbes.com: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateoflahertyuk/2020/03/27/beware-zoom-users-heres-how-people-can-zoom-bomb-your-chat/#53a32663618e
  6. (2020). LearnCube. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from https://www.learncube.com/: https://www.learncube.com/
  7. Maggie Miller. (2020). Zoom CEO says the company reached 200 million daily users in March. Retrieved 4 20, 2020, from The Hill: https://thehill.com/policy/cybersecurity/490794-zoomceo-says-company-reached-200-million-daily-users-in-march
  8. Manyu Jiang. (2020, April 22). The reason Zoom calls drain your energy. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from BBC.COM: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200421-why-zoom-video-chats-are-so-exhausting
  9. Mary Burns. (2020, March 26). Taking It Online: Virtual Teaching With Webinars. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from eLearning Industry: https://elearningindustry.com/online-virtual-teaching-webinar-technologies/amp
  10. Microsoft Teams. (2020). Microsoft Teams. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Microsoft Teams: https://www.microsoft.com/en-in/microsoft-365/microsoft-teams/group-chat-software
  11. Piotrowski, M. (2010). What is an E-Learning Platform? In Y. Kats, Learning Management System Technologies and Software Solutions for Online Teaching: Tools and Applications: Tools and Applications (pp. 21-36). New York: IGI Global. https://books.google.co.in/books?id=2OsPGIvgjGwC&dq=Michael+Piotrowski,+What+is+an+Elearning+platform&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
  12. (2020). About PowerSchool. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from PowerSchool: https://www.powerschool.com/company/about-us/
  13. (2020). Schoology. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from Schoology.com: https://www.schoology.com/
  14. Suzanne Degges-White. (2020, April 4). Zoom Fatigue: Don’t Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/202004/zoom-fatigue-dont-let-video-meetings-zap-your-energy
  15. Taylor Nicole Rogers. (2020). Meet Eric Yuan, the founder, and CEO of Zoom, who has made nearly $4 billion in 3 months as usage of his video conferencing software skyrockets amid the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved April 21, 2020, from Business Insiders: https://www.businessinsider.com/meet-zoom-billionaire-eric-yuan-career-net-worthlife?IR=T
  16. (2020). Vedamo. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from Vedamo.com: https://www.vedamo.com/
  17. https://images.app.goo.gl/AH7Rp71yAnGUYCyR9

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