Virtual Classrooms

MINERVA - Information and communication technologies in education
Virtual Classrooms in educational provision

Link to the project's central web site

One of the public deliverables

Book published by FernUniversität in Hagen: Zentrales Institut für Fernstudienforschung (ZIFF)
with co-authors from the Department of Information Systems of Corvinus University of Budapest


  • Ericsson Competence Solutions (ECS) of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, is Ericsson’s leading global training centre providing training to thousands of Ericsson employees worldwide as well as to employees of other European and world-wide telecommunications companies.
  • Budapest University of Economic Sciences and Public Administration (BUESPA) – The University established a Technology Transfer Centre (TTC) in 1998. Its mission is to operate as a bridge between industry and higher education by supporting bi-directional knowledge transfer. One main task which enables the efficient fulfilment of its mission, is the full exploitation of information society technologies including interactive multimedia-based (tele-) education.
  • NKI is one of the largest non-governmental educational institutions in Northern Europe. The NKI Group comprises NKI Distance Education, The Polytechnical College (DPH), The Business Training Centre (NA) and NKI Publishing House. The NKI Group has each year a total of around 6000 full-time and 25000 part-time students. NKI Distance Education is accredited for state financial support.
  • The FernUniversität in Hagen is Germany’s Open University. It has an enrolment of 60000 per year and has successfully developed its own virtual university for the use of advanced level electronic technologies in distance learning. The German Open University, the FernUniversität in Hagen is the leading European university in virtual systems with its Virtuelle Universität already functioning at
  • DEIS (the Gaelic word for opportunity) was established in 1993 under the EU EUROFORM initiative to carry out a project in the area of open/distance learning. In 1996 it became an official Department of Cork Institute of Technology with a mission to 'innovate in education for quality and access'.


The latest USA statistics put the e-learning industry market at $ in the USA alone. Industry analysts IDC Research show that this will grow to $ by 2005. A whole new sector of educational provision has been born and it is imperative that Europe should participate more fully in this new sector.
European Commission documentation is insistent on the importance of e-learning. The comprehensive eEurope Action Plan emphasises the European uptake of digital technologies. The eLearning Action Plan calls for education systems to use developments in information and communication technologies. The Amsterdam and Lisbon European Councils set the strategic policies for an effective spreading of knowledge across Europe to become, in the next decade, the world's most important knowledge-based economy.
Many of the European Commission documents, however, acknowledge an American leadership in e-learning and talk of measures to bridge the gap by developing European systems. One key area of e-learning where Europe lags way behind its US counterparts is that of ‘live’ e-learning or Synchronous e-learning Systems (SESs). These are also referred to as group-based ‘virtual classrooms’ and are based on Learning Management systems like Centra Symposium, Aspen Ingenium, Learnlink and others.
In these Synchronous e-learning Systems (SESs), both the teacher and students have to be simultaneously present. SESs differ from standard e-learning as they restore the live interactivity of the conventional training session or classroom by assembling (electronically) the class group, at a fixed time, for a fixed period, on a fixed day, with voice and/or video interaction between the instructor and the participants or between the participants with each other, using a wide range of didactically developed software to present the course content and to achieve that interactivity in which the educational context occurs. As they are group-based, these virtual classrooms lend themselves to collaborative work, and because the students are based in different geographical locations, live communication from a distance is also enabled. Unfortunately, these group-based, synchronous, live e-learning systems are practically unknown and are little used in Europe. This project addresses, therefore, a lacuna in European e-learning and a weakness in Europe's attempts to reduce American leadership in electronic learning.

The specific objectives of the project

  • to analyse Synchronous e-Learning Systems (SESs) for the European training industry, both government and corporate
  • to evaluate the pedagogical and technical structures of these virtual classrooms for European training providers. In this context, the didactical use of virtual classrooms will be explored with particular emphasis on exploiting possibilities for group collaboration and communication
  • to develop a portfolio of courses to use in an SES environment and to test and evaluate these courses with real students
  • to produce a substantial qualitative and quantitative analysis of learning in three different environments namely, traditional classroom training, standard e-learning and virtual classsrooms
  • to produce a manual of best practice for European training institutions
  • to identify and document the benefits of using Synchronous e-Learning Systems for course delivery
  • to identify and list the advantages of virtual classrooms over existing teaching methodologies
  • to disseminate the results through the working papers and articles on the project website, the book of the project and an international conference on Synchronous e-Learning Systems and their importance for European providers.
The results of the project will help to fill the void in research into SESs in a European context. It will provide valuable reference material, and guides to best-practice in the implementation of SESs.