With more schools making the switch to Chromebooks and Google apps, Google Classroom is an increasingly popular tool. But what exactly is it: a virtual classroom or an LMS?
The simple answer: Google Classroom is an LMS, or learning management system. But if you’ve been asking yourself this question, it’s probably because you need a little help understanding the difference between a virtual classroom and an LMS.
In this article, we’ll define these terms, assess their benefits, and explain why Google Classroom is in fact an LMS.
What is a virtual classroom, and what are the benefits?
A virtual classroom is, according to Techopedia, “a teaching and learning environment where participants can interact, communicate, view and discuss presentations, and engage with learning resources while working in groups, all in an online setting.” This makes video conferencing a popular choice for getting students together when they can’t physically be in the same place.
Virtual classrooms leverage the massive amounts of knowledge available online in order to learn. The “textbook” becomes much larger: videos, articles, polls, whiteboards, audio clips, animations, slideshows, quizzes, even educational games — anything that can be found or created digitally.
This enables students to approach and understand a concept in different ways, thus supporting differentiation, and students can access and discuss coursework anytime, anywhere.
What is an LMS, and what are the benefits?
A learning management system, or LMS, is a course management system. It includes features like lesson materials, quizzes for self-assessment, progress tracking, and learner feedback.
An LMS organizes content in one place for easy access and foolproof storage, among other benefits. Learners can typically access it on desktops or their phones and tablets, and they can make progress individually, at their own speed. This makes learning management systems excellent for personalized learning, and they help with assessing student performance. Teachers can more easily identify and support students who are struggling and let those who have already grasped the concept move ahead for more of a challenge.
So is Google Classroom a virtual classroom or an LMS?
Both virtual classrooms and learning management systems are multi-device-friendly, support learning anytime and anywhere, secure work and data online or in the cloud, and are great for differentiation of learning. But Google Classroom is an LMS, and here’s why:
Virtual classrooms imply a collective experience, where students and teachers can be virtually “present together.” They’re more than just video meet-ups, too; all kinds of media can be shared. Think of it like a hub, much like your own classroom, where learning can happen in different ways, both synchronously and asynchronously, and learners can interact and engage — only without needing to meet in-person. The goal remains the same: to learn together.
Google Classroom isn’t a collective experience. It’s more an individual one, closer in nature to an LMS. Students join separately (with a code) and work separately within it, moving at their own pace and viewing or uploading assignments when they’re ready.
While Google Classroom does feature a “class stream,” or discussion component where students can see one another’s comments and share ideas asynchronously, it’s only one of many interactions they can have since the larger, physical classroom experience is happening outside it. Google Classroom supplements the classroom rather than re-creates it, and the focus is on extending certain (but not all) components of the classroom to the online, digital space.
However, while Google Classroom lacks the true collectivity of a virtual classroom experience, it still features aspects of shared learning — and knowing that can help you make the most of using it. For example, students can collaborate on Google Docs and Slides, and the class stream is a good place for students to reflect and engage constructively.