The Virtual Classroom: 12 Best Online Classroom Software in 2020

Apr 14, 2020

Online Teaching

Did you ZOOM over here to read this!? Well, that’s no surprise! 

With an explosion of online teaching due to the pandemic, many educational providers have been scrambling to find the right solution to conducting online lessons. The needs of different online classroom are as diverse as the needs of every live classroom. Young learners, teenagers, young adults, and business professionals all have different expectations for an online classroom that must be addressed.

As an educational provider, understanding what your customers expect is crucial not only in how to educate your teachers to conduct online classes, but also in order to prepare for the short and long term needs of online teaching.

Many schools will undoubtably look for a “quick fix” solution and do not much more than ask their teachers to signup for Skype accounts in order to conduct their lessons. But in this world where schools will remain closed for the indefinite future, educational providers must realize that soon everyone will be bombarded with ‘low cost’ online lessons.  It is extremely important to remain competitive in this market. This likely means having to do a bit of rethinking of your school’s key USPs and how they can be delivered effectively via a virtual classroom.

Furthermore, taking the quick approach and leaving the burden on your teachers will inevitably mean having more unknown variables at play. You’ll be relying on the tech savviness of your teachers and students, not to mention their internet connection, resourcefulness, and what type of software and tools they’re willing to invest in. Since everyone will be working from home, you’ll also be relying on your teachers and students’ honesty and trust to ensure that everything is going as planned. 

So what’s the real solution?

Today, we take a look at a number of online learning providers currently being used in Poland and see how they all stack up against each other. We created this list after surveying over 80 educational providers that we work with, and then doing our own independent test trials of each system. We also contacted many of the providers directly to inquire about special offers and unlisted features, which we will discuss here. 

Firstly, let’s talk about this Zoom thing. You probably hear about it 24/7.  The immediate popularity of this platform has been both a combination of both viral marketing (their PR and marketing teams are doing a damn good job) and the simplicity of signing up for a free account.  Notwithstanding these points, we will look at the systems functionality later in this blog.

Before we get stuck into all the systems, it’s important to clarify some fundamental differences with these companies.

Every online learning platform out there was created for a different purpose, and can fulfil a different set of functions. Knowing which software provides the functions needed for your school to operate efficiently is the key to choosing the right platform. 

 

Learning Management System

A Learning Management System (or LMS) is the backbone of any school’s virtual presence. Most schools and education companies (both physical and virtual) use LMSs for sending and receiving online assignments. In some cases, the LMS may even have built-in eLearning tools so you can develop virtual classrooms and virtual lesson material without getting additional software.

Virtual Classroom

A virtual classroom is the key resource you’ll need to be a fully fledged online school – and the difference between a good virtual classroom and a bad virtual classroom can really be the difference between getting through this crises in debt vs still profitable.  

The majority of software that schools are using to conduct virtual classes (Zoom included) are not truly virtual classrooms, but actually business software designed for virtual corporate meetings. There’s no doubt that business meeting software can be used to function as a virtual classroom; all it takes is a talented teacher and a bit of customization, which most provide. 

But in our opinion, language learning is a complex and very specific process that requires the full functionality of a virtual classroom.

A whiteboard is the key component to any virtual classroom. Good virtual classrooms should have multiple whiteboards, which you can easily flip through during a lesson like slides in a PowerPoint.

Free Offers

Due to the aggressive marketing of online teaching/conferencing software following the pandemic, most online learning providers are offering extremely attractive free plans. Perhaps this is to compete with Zoom (which has an extremely popular free plan), or perhaps they’re just being generous to budget conscious consumers in a time of need. 

But the free plans that you see are meant to appeal to the masses, just like Zoom, and not a professional education provider. In almost every software’s free plan, a key limitation is that only one user can access the account. Sure, it’s possible for you to have each teacher create their own free account, but this will look very unprofessional to your students. Not to mention the legal risks to GDPR compliance and security issues if your students are minors. 

Having a business account also allows for more visibility of your teachers, students, and classes.  Not only will this eliminate risks, but also make administration and schedule management much easier, as you’ll be able to see everything in one place. 

Also, many free plans are merely marketing ploys aimed at attracting customers during the mass rush to online teaching and video conferencing that the pandemic has caused. It would be logical to expect that once the pandemic has passed, they’ll likely start pressuring you to switch to a paid plan.

Unless otherwise noted, we will only be discussing the paid business plans for each software when they exist, as the free options are not compatible with the needs of most educational providers.

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We’ve have examined each software based off five criteria: User Experience (both for the teacher and the learners), Administrative Functions, Branding, Virtual Classroom, and of course Pricing. Other factors that we’ve considered are mobile/app friendliness, integration options, and added multimedia functions.

We’ve rated each software at how well it performs in each category on a scale of one to five. A five means it’s absolutely perfect and can do everything you need it for, while a one means it’s practically useless for a professional education provider. 

Skype

Skype is one of the oldest and most well know video calling systems. It’s safe to say that pre-pandemic, Skype was the go-to system for video calling and conferencing for most consumers. 

While it is possible to teach over Skype, and Skype has made slow steps at developing more features beyond its basic video calling service, it still falls far short of being a virtual classroom. If you must use Skype, we highly recommend using it in conjunction with ManyCam, which we will discuss later.

 

User Experience

Simple and straight forward, hence why it’s so popular. Much of this is due to the fact that almost everyone is already familiar with Skype. Having to download a desktop client for some is not nice, however the desktop application is very simple and most people already have it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Admin Functions

Virtually zero unless you were using Skype for Business (now migrated to Microsoft Teams, we’ll discuss that later as it has now become a separate product). 

Rating: 2 / 5

Branding

None. Skype is Skype; that’s why it might as well be the generic word for video calling.

Rating: 0 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Non-existent. No whiteboard function, PDF viewer, nor even the most basic classroom functions.

Rating: 0 / 5

Pricing

Free!

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 2 / 5

Google Hangouts

The original and most widely known (pre-pandemic, that is) video conferencing software, Google Hangouts makes it easy to connect with a large group of people. 

As amazing of tool as it might be to connect with your family over Easter while in quarantine, Google Hangouts has virtually no functions of a virtual classroom and should be avoided for educational purposes. We highly recommend using it in conjunction with ManyCam, which we will discuss later, if you absolutely must use Google Hangouts for teaching.

 

User Experience

Similar to Skype, the user experience is very simple and smooth, and almost no learning curve. It  runs in the browser so no additional extensions or software are required.  Most people have Google account, so students will not even have to signup.

Rating: 4 / 5

Admin Functions

Basically none. If you have Google’s G Suite, there are some limited admin functions and integrations, but still nothing to write home about.

Rating: 1 / 5

Branding

None. Google is Google. If you pay for G Suite, you can add your logo and a customized background, but that’s it.

Rating: 1 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Non-existent. Just like Skype, this is a video calling software, not a virtual classroom.

Rating: 0 / 5

Pricing

Free!

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 2.2 / 5

Zoom

So what does all the hype about Zoom really mean? Is there a reason, beyond viral marketing, that everyone seems to be using Zoom for everything from calling grandma, to joining online pub quizzes, to teaching languages online?

 Beyond it’s branding, Zoom is a solid all-round program that covers most aspects of what is needed for online classes, though there are some major drawbacks. It also has some cool integration options you may be able to utilize.

 

User Experience

Everything is simple, very intuitive, and straightforward. Functional and refined to be easily used as a virtual classroom. Thanks to the pandemic, many students and teachers will likely already be familiar with it. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Admin Functions

Full reporting functions, team management, and API integration available through the paid plans.

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

You can add your logo but that’s about it.

Rating: 2 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Has all basic features of a virtual classroom as well as breakout rooms with the paid plan. However whiteboard features are very basic, and editing is a bit cumbersome. No annotation of PDF slides. Not recommended for young learners. 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Pricing

$15 per teacher/month for the plan you’ll most likely need.

Rating: 4 / 5

Overall Rating: 3.9 / 5

Microsoft Teams

Formerly known as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams has a fully functional webinar software as part of its package. Recently, they have also added numerous e-learning tools to their package, for both adults and young learners.

A major advantage of Microsoft Teams is its integration with other Microsoft Suite products, such as Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint. If you’re already using these systems to manage your business, Microsoft Teams can be an excellent LMS + virtual classroom combo. Otherwise, the learning curve is a bit too high for it to have a high ranking.

 

User Experience

Like most Microsoft products, it feels good and navigates smoothly through a nice interface. The signup process to create a Microsoft account and/or add Teams to your existing account is not so straight forward and takes longer than it should. Each user must download the software in order to use it.

Rating: 2 / 5

Admin Functions

You can achieve any type of report you need however they are not straightforward and will require a learning curve for your teachers and admin staff if they aren’t already used to Microsoft products. Some reports sit within the control account of the Teams and others (sometimes more useful ones) sit in the admin section of your Office 365 account. The program has API integration, so importing class lists and schedules from your own software is possible. 

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Branding

You can add you logo, but that’s pretty much it.

Rating: 2 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

A good feel, and easy to use simple classroom functions. No ability to annotate PDF documents, nor native breakout room functionality.

Rating: 3 / 5

Pricing

Free for schools. If not a registered school, prices are still very low,  starting at $3.25 per month per teacher.

Rating: 4 / 5

Overall Rating: 2.5 / 5

Webex

Webex is a business conferencing software developed by Cisco, and is one of the most popular pieces of software for the in businesses conference room. Over the years, they’ve slowly evolved to adding features and marketing packages to other consumers of video conferencing software, including school. 

Nevertheless, its features still fall short of being a fully functioning virtual classroom.

 

User Experience

From the company side, account creation was quite standard (though not perfect), but the system for creating accounts and logging in for a student and a teacher was absolutely terrible.  You have to download an extension to have the classroom work in your browser, which completely defeats the purpose of having a browser-based system.

Rating: 1 / 5

Admin Functions

While Webex allows you to generate reports, the reports are not geared to education and will require some clever manipulation from the school in order to be functional. Plus a steep learning curve for the teacher and admins.

Rating: 2 / 5

Branding

You are able to place your logo and modify the navigation menu items a bit. Nevertheless,  fact you are using Webex is still clear and evident, and any shared content has a Webex watermark placed onto it. You have to manually call customer support to have the watermark swapped for your own. Oh, and this feature is also only available in their highest plan, which costs €25,65 per month per host/teacher.

Rating: 2 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

The whiteboard has basic functions, but no breakout rooms, PDF annotation, or other features necessary for a virtual classroom. The controls in the virtual classroom are also quite confusion and require a learning curve. Definitely a no-no if any of your students are kids.

Rating: 2 / 5

Pricing

About the same as ZOOM, but with less features and functionality. And far less commonly known and used.

Rating: 2 / 5

Overall Rating: 1.6 / 5

ClickMeeting

ClickMeeting is a lesser-known, simple, and yet highly powerful webinar software. It is entirely browser based and very user friendly, combined with a surprising number of virtual classroom tools. It even has ecommerce options including a payment gateway, so you can collect payment from clients directly on the virtual classroom. 

 

User Experience

Signup and usability is great and simple. Integration options are very powerful and can be integrated with almost any online system that you’re currently using with API. The user interface is clean and has great user-friendly features. 100% browser based, so no installations or downloads required.

Rating: 4 / 5

Admin Functions

You can get all the reports you need and more with its seamingly endless two-way API integration.

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

Full customization and control of the colour scheme, logo, images, and almost everything. Your students will never know they’re on ClickMeeting. You can even add custom calls to action to generate sales and encourage students to book more lessons.

Rating: 5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Very simple, aesthetically pleasing, and surprisingly powerful with features. No breakout rooms however, which can be a deterrent to higher leveled students.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

Tiered pricing depending on how many teachers you have and what features you need. Comparable to Zoom.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.2 / 5

GoToTraining

GoToTraining is a spin-off of GoToMeeting, a software which has long been a favorite for virtual business meetings. A step above Webex for business conference functionality, GoToTraining takes it to another level and gives the educational manager a powerful set of tools to manage a school remotely. 

If you are a larger educational company and looking for a solution that is robust, powerful, and can integrate with your existing system, then GoToTraining is a great choice.

 

User Experience

The system has a huge amount of options and customizations which makes this an excellent solution one for more advanced users and IT savvy teachers (or schools willing to invest in some IT development).  The end user experience is good, but can be a little overwhelming for less tech savvy students. Not recommended for use with young learners.

Rating: 3 / 5

Admin Functions

Full control. Unlimited options for integration using API. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

You can add your logo and customize the page colour, but that’s it.

Rating: 3 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

GoToTraining has a fantastic virtual classroom with a robust set of features, however it is designed for corporate training sessions and not language learning. It is also designed with the needs of business professionals in mind, so it may be quite complicated for a younger or less savvy student.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

Comparable to Zoom.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Overall Rating: 3.7 / 5

LangLion

LangLion is Polish-based LMS, and is the most popular educational software used by language schools in Poland. It is fully functional and built for language learning, and comes with it’s own virtual classroom plus integration with ClickMeeting.

If you do not have a management system to control your school online and need online teaching integrated to make the billing process simple and quick, LangLion is a good option.  However, it is not possible to use their virtual classroom as a standalone product, so if you already have a functional LMS, LangLion may be more than what you need.

 

User Experience

The interface is straight forward and simple and easy to navigate. The virtual classroom is very basic and simple, and not very aesthetically pleasing. The design doesn’t make you enjoy the experience anymore either. Certainly not recommended for young learners.

Rating: 4 / 5

Admin Functions

Full control and reports. This is a fully functional LMS built for langauge center management, and has the tools that most language schools in Poland use to manage their administration.

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

None. LangLion wants everyone to know that you’re using their product.

Rating: 0 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Functionality wise, the virtual classroom has every function your teachers will need. However everything is very basic, bland, and lacking customization.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

Very expensive. As a full-on LMS, there are no “basic” packages. You start with up to 100 students and paying €115 per month. 

Rating: 1 / 5

Overall Rating: 3.2 / 5

Vedamo

Vedamo is an incredibly powerful piece of educational software that combines all the features of both a LMS and virtual classroom (though you can choose to use on or the other if you wish). 

Its interface is incredibly aesthetically pleasing for admins, teachers, and learners alike. The virtual classroom is specifically designed for language learning and has a lot of tools that come in extremely handy for young learners. If you are a school with mostly very young and young learners, this is a fantastic system!

 

User Experience

Whether you are using their standalone virtual classroom or LMS, the user experience with Vedamo is superb. Fresh, modern, and sleek design that can be easily used students of all ages with no technical background at all.

Rating: 5 / 5

Admin Functions

Everything you need to manage your school comes in the LMS. The virtual classroom has more limited administrative function, and unfortunately no API integration. 

Rating: 4 / 5

Branding

Add your logo and customize colours, but not much more.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

It has everything a virtual classroom could ask for, plus specific tools for language learning. Sharable templates meaning you can reuse custom designed lessons and share them amongst teachers to reduce the lesson planning workload.  The whiteboard has the most functionality and ease of use that we’ve seen and makes Vedamo and excellent choice for young learners and other low-level students.

Rating: 5 / 5

Pricing

€20 per teacher/month for the virtual classroom; €35 per teacher/month for the LMS

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5

LearnCube

A very similar program to Vedamo both aesthetically and technically, LearnCube offers both a LMS and virtual classroom which can be purchased separately. A simple yet powerful platform built for language schools, LearnCube provides a highly developed and refined online education system for language learning.

Although it lacks breakout rooms and the maximum class size is 8, if these are not a dealbreaker, LearnCube may be the best option for your school.

 

User Experience

Their system is very simple to use and aesthetically pleasing, for both the LMS and virtual classroom. Signup and registration is very easy as well, and it is entirely browser based so no software downloading is required.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Admin Functions

The LMS has absolutely everything you need; and with API integration you’ll have full admin controls of the virtual classroom as well.

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

Lots of customization. Add your logo, a background image, and customize the colour scheme.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Very aesthetically pleasing virtual classroom. It’s also possibly the best geared virtual classroom for language teaching, with components such as quick links to bring up verb tables, adjectives, etc. However, current limitations allow only up to 8 students per session and no breakout rooms. However these are currently in development.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

For the virtual classroom, $14 per teacher, per month. Or $26.60 if you want Premium ESL content as well. The LMS starts at $118 per month and includes the virtual classroom for up to 5 teachers on the basic plan. 

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5

WizIQ

Another all-in-one program that provides both a LMS and virtual classroom, WizIQ is among the most widely used educational software in the world. It offers virtually every feature you could ever imagine for online education, though at a steep price.

If you are seriously considering transitioning your business into offering online courses for the long term, or selling your curriculum and lessons online lessons, this is the system to go for. With full integration into your website and existing systems, as well as a mobile app to ensure continuous learning and student engagement, WizIQ may be the future of e-learning management. 

 

User Experience

The entire registration process is simple, quick and everything works just as it should. The design is simple and highly functional for both the virtual classroom and LMS. The menu system gives you, students, and teachers access to everything in a clear and coherent way. However, their customer service isn’t great, so if you can’t manage to figures stuff out on your own, don’t expect to get much help.

Rating: 5 / 5

Admin Functions

Full reports and controls of both the LMS and virtual classroom, with API integration.

Rating: 5 / 5

Branding

Full “white label” branding including the mobile app and integration into your website. This will appear as being your online learning platform; the students won’t know that they’re using a WizIQ product.

Rating: 5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Editable PDFs, easy controls, and virtually everything else you might need for your virtual classroom. Except no breakout rooms, which might be an issue if you’re teaching advances students. The whiteboard functions are simple enough for young learners yet powerful enough for business professionals. 

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

For the full features, $45 per teacher/month for the virtual classroom and $47 per teacher/month for the LMS. So about twice the price of Vedamo and LearnCube, but you get what you pay for. They do offer a “basic” version of the virtual classroom for only $25 a month, albeit with most of its unique featuers stripped out. 

Rating: 1 / 5

Overall Rating: 4 / 5

ManyCam

ManyCam is an extremely unique, flexible, and highly powerful piece of software. While it’s not a virtual classroom, or even a video chatting or conferencing software, it can transpose even the most basic video calling app into a powerful virtual classroom. What it does is integrate with whatever video calling app you’re using, whether it be a virtual classroom, or even Zoom, Skype, or WhatsApp, and allows you to overlay anything onto your camera view.

This is a very easy way to turn a simple free program like ZOOM or Skype into something amazing, especially for young learners and teenagers.  For a true online freelancer, this should be a must have in your arsenal. 

 

User Experience

This is a well thought out and polished product. Though it requires a download and has a bit of a learning curve, everything is controlled from the teacher’s end, so no extra work or downloads for the students. However, the amount it can do is absolutely incredible. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Admin Functions

None. Entirely teacher-controlled software.

Rating: 0 / 5

Branding

None built in, as you’ll always have to be using another calling app which will most certainly have branding. However with it’s unlimited customization, you could certainly find a way to overlay branding if you get a bit creative.

Rating: 2 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

None built is as you’ll have to rely on another video calling platform. Though what it can do is transform a basic video calling app into a powerful virtual classroom, with almost every feature you’ll need. However it is entirely teacher-driven so your students won’t be able to interract with the classroom features.

Rating: 3 / 5

Pricing

Has an excellent free version, which has all the features you’ll need if you’re using it in conjunction with a proper virtual classroom like Vedamo or LearnCube. For all other teachers, the extremely affordable $29/year basic plan will probably suffice. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 2.8 / 5

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So what’s the verdict?

Obviously there’s no one right answer. Every educational provider has unique needs to fit their students and class types. Furthermore, every school has a different motivation for launching online classes. Perhaps you’re just looking for something to get you through the next few months of the pandemic. Or maybe just something to use temporarily if a teacher or student is sick. But many businesses have longer term motivations, and seek a more powerful and robust system.

For simple, quick-fix solutions, Zoom seems at first glance like the best option. It’s simple, powerful with features, very affordable, and widely used already. However, when compared to similarly priced solutions like Vedamo and LearnCube that are built for language education, Zoom gets squashed in the competition. 

While Zoom may be sustainable as a temporary solution if all of your students are adults and everyone understands that online learning is only a temporary solution, it’s usefulness pretty much ends there. If you need something to use medium or long-term, and with a diverse age range of learners, Vedamo and LearnCube are the clear winners. 

If you’re looking to bring your entire business online, WizzIQ or the LMS version of LearnCube might be the solution. But unless you have either unlimited pockets, or very long-term goals, they’re likely to be too powerful and costly for what you need.

 

 

Know any other great online teaching software that we didn’t cover? We’re here to help! Shoot us an email to hello@englishwizards.pl and we’ll have a look at it. This list is merely a work in progress by our community!

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