Revolutionising Education: The Best Virtual Classrooms for Universities in 2023

14 min read
January 12, 2023

Video communication is more popular than ever before. Almost every sector has felt the impact. Universities are no different. The global eLearning market is projected to reach a staggering $325 billion in 2025.

Before the pandemic, eLearning was growing much slower than today. The pandemic caused the sector to advance in leaps and bounds as developers tried to create solutions that could satisfy the huge new market. 

Table of contents 

  1. What are Virtual Classrooms?
  2. Top 16 Virtual Classrooms for Universities in 2023
  3. 5 Key Benefits of Virtual Classrooms for Universities
  4. 3 Steps for Choosing a Virtual Classroom
  5. Top Virtual Classroom Features
  6. 5 Tips for a Successful Virtual Classroom
  7. Final Thought

Universities were hit especially hard by the pandemic. Many courses went from being mostly in-person to 100% virtual overnight. Universities were forced to patch together virtual classrooms using existing solutions and whatever was available at the time. 

In 2023, virtual classrooms will be a core element of virtually all university courses. Despite the pandemic ending, most universities have returned to a hybrid model that relies heavily on virtual classrooms. 

This article will look at the top virtual classrooms for universities in 2023. We will also cover some of the advantages of virtual classrooms and how to choose the best one for your higher education institution. 

What are Virtual Classrooms?

Virtual classrooms are video conferencing tools that allow teachers and students to engage with each other and course materials. To classify as a virtual classroom and not just as a video conferencing tool, a virtual classroom must provide additional features that make online learning easier:

  • Course materials - access and store course materials via screen-sharing, file storage, cloud storage and software integration. 
  • Moderation capabilities - teachers must have full control over every aspect of the classroom as they would in a real classroom. 
  • Interactive features - polling, hand-raising, and Q&A are some interactive features that teachers can use to keep students interested and engaged.
  • Session recording - allows teachers to record sessions and reuse them later. It can also be useful for prerecording materials that can be used in lessons. 
  • Breakout rooms let teachers virtually divide their students into smaller working groups for discussions and tasks. 

Virtual classrooms try to recreate the experience of ‘real’ classrooms by creating an interactive virtual space that facilitates the learning process. Simple video conferencing tools are unsuitable for creating effective learning environments because they lack moderation capabilities and interactive features.

A huge positive of virtual classrooms is the flexibility they offer to students and teachers. Giving students the power to join any course, anywhere in the world and on any device is extremely empowering. 

Most universities will have a Learning Management System (LMS) in place. Because of this, it’s important that virtual classrooms and LMS’ are compatible and complement each other. For a large-scale institution to successfully implement eLearning, it must combine the power of an LMS and a virtual classroom.

Top 16 Virtual Classrooms for Universities in 2023:

Each virtual classroom offers unique features and benefits for students and universities. It’s important to research and compare different options to find the best fit for your needs.

Digital Samba for Education


Digital Samba for Education is our answer to your virtual classroom needs. We’ve created an encrypted and GDPR-compliant video conferencing solution perfect for large and small groups. Our platform was made in Europe and offers premier stability, customer support, customisation and one of the richest feature sets on the market. Our pricing is super flexible and scalable. There is a package for every type of educational institution. Interested in giving us a try? Request a live demo.

Key features

  • Browser-based
  • Breakout rooms
  • Whiteboard
  • Role management & moderation
  • Content (media) library

Pros 

  • Dozens of features
  • Flexible pricing
  • Cloud-storage
  • European security

Cons

  • Time-limited free trial

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Paid plans start at €11/month

Blackboard Collaborate

Blackboard Collaborate is a virtual classroom and online collaboration tool designed for institutions that want to provide more engaging and personalised learning options for their students. It goes beyond traditional web conferencing to meet the diverse collaboration needs of educators and learners. With a focus on the student experience, Blackboard Collaborate offers a high level of engagement that makes it feel like students are in a physical classroom, even when they aren’t.

Key features

  • Gradebook
  • Mobile app
  • Data management

Pros 

  • Reliable
  • Flexible pricing
  • Suited to large institutions

Cons

  • Complex set-up process
  • Described as clunky

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Quote-based pricing

Canvas LMS

Canvas LMS is a simple, intuitive learning management system that provides equitable access and instructional continuity to every student, no matter where they are. With Canvas LMS, you can amplify the awesomeness of your students, educators, and administrators by providing an open and scalable platform. Canvas LMS is available every day and enables you to easily and effectively support learning and instruction for all students.

Key features

  • Discussion forum
  • Store course materials
  • Role management & moderation
  • Gradebook

Pros

  • Widely used
  • User-friendly
  • Integrations
Cons
  • Learning curve
  • Limited customisation

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Quote based pricing

Moodle


Moodle is an open-source virtual classroom that is widely used by universities around the world. It offers features such as a grade book, forums, and the ability to upload and access course materials. Moodle is highly customisable and can be used for traditional and online courses.

Key features

  • Customisation
  • Discussion forum
  • Manage and track student progress
  • Accessibility

Pros

  • Open source
  • Widely used
  • Blended learning features

Cons

  • Limited support

Pricing

  • Free (open source)

Google Classroom


 

Google Classroom is part of the G Suite for Education tool set. It offers features such as creating and grading assignments and participating in discussions, all in a familiar Google format. Google Classroom integrates seamlessly with other Google tools, such as Google Docs.

Key features

  • Host video meetings
  • Protect data and set permissions
  • Track and submit assignments
  • Google Integration

Pros

  • Familiar interface
  • Easy grading
  • Free

Cons

  • Limited customisation
  • Limited support

Pricing

  • Free

Microsoft Teams


Microsoft Teams is a messaging and collaboration platform that offers a variety of features, including real-time communication and collaboration, meetings, file and app sharing, and the ability to use emojis.

Key features

  • Microsoft Integration
  • Document storage
  • Smooth chat function
  • Multi-device compatible

Pros

  • Dozens of features
  • Office 365 integration
  • Mobile app

Cons

  • A limited number of channels
  • Confusing file structures

Pricing

  • Free version 
  • Paid plans range from £3-£9.5/month

Schoology


 

Schoology Learning is a top-rated learning management system (LMS) used in K-12 education. It’s part of PowerSchool's Unified Classroom solution and aims to improve student achievement, parent involvement, and communication and collaboration among educators. It offers personalised instruction and equal access to learning for all students, regardless of location.

Key features

  • Curriculum management
  • Instructor tools
  • Global learning community
  • Mobile app

Pros

  • Rich feature set
  • Mobile compatible
  • Integration

Cons

  • Limited support
  • Learning curve

Pricing

  • Free version 
  • Quote-based enterprise pricing

Brightspace


Brightspace is a virtual classroom offered by D2L, a leading provider of learning management systems. It offers features like discussion boards and the ability to upload and access course materials. Brightspace also has a mobile app and integrates with various other tools, such as Turnitin and Adobe Creative Cloud.

Key features

  • Course creation
  • Blended learning
  • Assignment management
  • Mobile app

Pros

  • Course creation
  • TurnItIn integration
  • Integration capabilities

Cons

  • Limited customisation

Pricing

  • Free trial 
  • Quote-based pricing

Sakai


Sakai is an open-source software platform for teaching, learning, research, and collaboration. It has a range of features and is constantly being updated based on the needs of its users, including students, faculty, and organisations.

Key features

  • Open-source
  • ePortfolio
  • Graded discussions
  • Discussion forums

Pros 

  • Open source flexibility
  • Powerful tools

Cons

  • Limited support 

Pricing

  • Free trial (open source)

Zoom


Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing platform with online meetings and group messaging features. It offers high-quality video, audio, and screen-sharing capabilities on various devices and systems, including Zoom Rooms, Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Zoom also has a mobile app and integrates with various other tools, such as Slack and Google Calendar.

Key features

  • Browser based
  • Lightweight
  • Customisable backgrounds
  • Video meetings

Pros

  • Good for large audiences
  • Freemium pricing
  • Very scalable

Cons

  • Lack of comment control

Pricing

  • Complex pricing system 
  • Dozens of packages

Whereby


Whereby is a video conferencing platform that allows users to host meetings with just one click using their internet browser on mobile or desktop devices. It was developed by privacy-conscious Europeans and is based in Norway. There is no need to download any app or software to use Whereby.

Key features

  • Screen share
  • Breakout rooms
  • Background effects

Pros

  • Multi-device compatible
  • Browser-based
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Uses significant storage space
  • Not suitable for large numbers of attendees

Pricing

  • Free plan
  • Paid plans start from $6.99/month

Adobe Connect

Adobe Connect is a virtual platform that allows you to create and deliver immersive and engaging experiences to a wide audience. It provides a flexible stage to design and host training sessions, webinars, and truly memorable meetings. With Adobe Connect, you can make your virtual events stand out and securely reach beyond traditional boundaries.

Key features

  • Multi-language support
  • Meeting recording
  • Screen share
  • Shared whiteboard

Pros

  • Simple UI
  • HD-quality browser-based video
  • New HTML client

Cons

  • No private chat option

Pricing

  • Free plan for up to 3 attendees
  • Paid plans start at $50/per month

Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings is a powerful and intelligent video conferencing solution designed to enhance collaboration and engagement in the modern workforce. It offers various features that help make meetings more interactive, such as background noise removal, voice enhancement, and animated emojis. Webex Meetings includes dynamic polling and Q&A by Slido, which can help improve audience engagement.

Key features

  • Variety of useful tools
  • Permissions and roles
  • Automated transcription
  • File sharing

Pros

  • Simple UI
  • Call recording
  • Enhanced security features

Cons

  • Costlier than other solutions

Pricing

  • Free but limited licence
  • Paid plans start at £11.5/licence/month

ReadyTech

ReadyTech is a company that specialises in creating training delivery platforms for instructor-led and self-paced training. Its cloud-based applications are user-friendly and allow users to administrate, deliver, and attend training courses easily. ReadyTech's solutions are trusted by major technology companies such as BMC Software, Esri, Google, KPMG, Mathworks, Okta, OpenText, and SoftwareAG.

Key features

  • Serves the corporate space
  • Breakout rooms
  • Multi-page whiteboard
  • Engagement monitor

Pros

  • Scheduling flexibility
  • Enhance security
  • Employee development

Cons

  • Learning curve

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Quote-based pricing

Vedamo

VEDAMO is a virtual classroom that provides interactive tools for gamification, classroom management, and lesson preparation that replicate the feeling of a traditional classroom. With VEDAMO, you can conduct engaging live online sessions with your students without installing additional software.

Key features

  • File sharing
  • Session recording
  • Role management & moderation
  • Survey tools

Pros

  • Feature-rich
  • Modern user interface
  • Cloud-storage

Cons

  • Learning curve

Pricing

  • Free trial
  • Paid plans start from $25/per month

Panopto


Panopto is a video platform that is widely used for training, teaching, and presenting. Many Fortune 1000 companies and leading academic institutions, such as GE, Qualcomm, Stanford, and Oxford, use Panopto to deliver training videos, lectures, live stream events and securely share their videos through a searchable portal similar to YouTube. 

Key features

  • Viewing statistics
  • Video captioning
  • Quiz creation
  • Integration

Pros 

  • Easily integrated
  • Interactive features
  • Simple recording features

Cons

  • Learning curve

Pricing

  • Free plan with limited capabilities
  • Paid plans start at $15/per month

Each of these virtual classrooms offers unique features and benefits for both students and universities. It is important to research and compare different options to find the best fit for your needs.

5 Key Benefits of Virtual Classrooms for Universities

  • Accessibility 

Virtual classrooms give students access to courses and lecture materials from anywhere with an internet connection. This democratises education and makes it accessible to groups typically unable to engage with higher education.

  • Flexibility

Virtual classrooms offer infinitely more flexibility than in-person classrooms. As long as students meet their teacher’s requirements, they can study and learn in the way that best fits their lifestyle. The flexibility of virtual learning is the main driver behind the added flexibility that eLearning offers.

  • Cost-effective

Virtual classrooms are often more cost-effective for students. Virtual-only courses typically charge lower tuition fees and don’t entail additional expenses such as commuting and accommodation costs. In addition to reducing costs, virtual classrooms reduce emissions - a study by Open University found that e-learning courses produce 85% fewer CO2 emissions per person than in-person courses.

  • Interactive

Despite being online, virtual classrooms can still be as, if not more, engaging than in-person courses. Top virtual classrooms include interactive features that boost engagement among students. These include but are not limited to hand-raising, Q&A and polling. 

  • Convenient

Virtual classrooms are very convenient for universities. They allow them to reach more students than they could otherwise. Virtual courses are much easier to organise than in-person courses and don’t come with the same logistical challenges. There is an ongoing debate in some countries about the ethics of universities charging students the same for in-person teaching as virtual learning. 

3 Steps for Choosing a Virtual Classroom

Check out our dedicated guide if you want a full guide on choosing the best virtual classroom. Here are 3 easy steps to follow when choosing the perfect virtual classroom:

1. Check Functionality 

What features do you need from a virtual classroom? Naturally, different platforms have different features, so you need to know exactly what you want. A good way to do this is to write down what you need a virtual classroom for. From here you can decide what features are essential and which ones are just ‘nice to have’.

For example, a small high school would need a platform with excellent moderation capabilities and enhanced privacy measures. If you intend to run remote training for your sales team, you will need to prioritise cloud storage, file-sharing, etc.

2. Define the Budget

Once you have identified your desired features, the next important step is to set a budget. Your budget will be unique to you and will depend on your institution or company size. 

3. Test-drive

It’s time to try out some virtual classrooms. Testing out a platform is the only way to really test if it’s the right platform for you. We recommend that you start by giving our virtual classroom, Digital Samba for Education, a test drive by signing up for a 14-day free trial or demo.

Top Virtual Classroom Features

1. User-Friendly

Virtual classroom software must be user-friendly and have an attractive UI. You want educators and students to adapt to new software quickly. Clunky and confusing software does not facilitate efficient learning.

2. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing functionality forms the core of any effective online classroom. Teachers and students must be able to see each other to engage with course materials fully. 

3. Device Compatibility

Students use a variety of devices for eLearning. Your platform must be compatible with as many as possible. You should choose software compatible with phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop PCs.

4. Interactive Features

Interactive features set online classrooms apart from conventional video conferencing platforms. They help educators more accurately recreate the experience of a real classroom. Here are some examples of important interactive features:

  • Hand raising - hand raising lets students raise a virtual hand to get noticed by the educator.
  • Shared whiteboard - a shared whiteboard lets teachers deliver material and collaborate with students in real-time.
  • Screen sharing - allows educators to share presentations, documents, charts, browser windows, or other materials to aid their lessons. 
  • Polling - allows educators to run engaging polls that involve the whole class. They are an excellent tool for getting everyone involved.

5. Cloud storage

Cloud storage lets you save course materials and provide access via a link. It’s a great way of allowing educators to prepare course materials beforehand and reuse them later. 

6. Instant Communication Tools

Communication is the cornerstone of high-quality education. Students must be able to ask questions, and educators need to be able to provide one-on-one support. Choose a platform that enables fluid student/educator communication.

7. Student Capacity

Try to have a good idea of how many students you will host in your classes. Choose a virtual classroom that can comfortably handle this number. Larger groups typically require more expensive or complex software packages.

8. Scalability

How scalable does your solution need to be? If you intend to scale your classes, choose a package that isn’t limited or can be expanded down the line.

5 Tips for a Successful Virtual Classroom

Stay organised 

Virtual classrooms often have lots of materials and deadlines to keep track of. Using calendars and to-do lists helps you stay on top of your course.

Encourage virtual interactions

Encourage engagement by encouraging learners to voice their thoughts and discuss their experiences. Encouraging collaboration will help keep students engaged and focused, minimising distractions that may arise from online chats or instant messaging. 

To facilitate interaction and engagement, request that all students activate their cameras and microphones.

Breakout rooms

Breakout sessions are an effective method of fostering creativity and hands-on learning in the classroom. They are the perfect collaborative environment for smaller groups. We recommend keeping groups at roughly 4-10 participants for optimal engagement. 

Polls and Quizzes

Polls or online quizzes are great tools for promoting active participation and allowing students to express their opinions. They are useful for evaluating students' understanding and can help teachers to identify areas that may require additional review or reinforcement.

Class recordings

Classroom recordings are invaluable for students and educators. Recordings allow you to review and reflect on your lessons, accommodate absent pupils, engage parents with your course and monitor compliance. 

Final Thought

Virtual classrooms are a convenient and flexible option for higher education, providing many benefits for students and universities. While it can take some time to adjust to a virtual learning environment, with the right tools and strategies, you can make your virtual classroom a success.

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