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Everyone has been trying to find their way during the COVID-19 pandemic and the winners have been companies with online learning platforms. Working from home, learning remotely or just connecting with family and friends have taken to new methods of communication and technology.
When it comes to online learning, many schools already had platforms in place that were relatively easy to adapt for more programs and a greater number of students interested in remote learning. Fortunately, Ashton College already had the Live Online platform for several courses. It was just a matter of fine tuning to get more of the existing programs delivered through the tool.
There are a range of online options being used for remote learning and two of the most popular are Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Both platforms are relatively new to the marketplace and have been incredibly fast to grow, adding features at break-neck speed and shifting on-the-fly to the massive increases in usage since COVID lock-downs began. The growth and change of both are likely to continue at this same speed for the foreseeable future.
While most students and education providers may initially prefer one option or another, the answer to “which is better” may sometimes be “both.” Zoom and Teams began from different points of view and while there are a great number of areas of overlap, there are differences as well that may make them compatible tools for education.
Zoom is the leader of video and audio communications. With free accounts, users can make unlimited calls (audio and/or video) for up to 100 people (there is a 40 minute time limit on calls with more than two people on a free account) and can record the sessions. It allows for screen sharing and other features that make it a great choice for workshops, conference calls and presentations. Paid versions of the tool allow for more than 100 people, calls of up to 24 hours in length, breakout rooms and other features. Overall, Zoom is known for its reliability, numerous capabilities available in the free version and ease of use.
Microsoft Teams is more of a collaboration tool that includes communication functions and file sharing. Users can set up a number of teams to collaborate with and communication within that team (in the tool) is transparent to all team members. Think of a team as a large cardboard box. That box has its own stream of communication available to everyone on the team. You can put smaller boxes within the big box and create subgroups known as channels. These smaller boxes can be private (only seen by the invited team members) or standard. You are also able to have private chats with one or more people. Within Teams, it’s easy to post documents or other files in one of the channels for others to see and access at any time. Even within the free version, there are a range of features that include audio and/or video calls. The paid version incorporates more security and administration features.
Deciding which tool is best for online learners hinges on a few factors. One of the most important to consider is what a school’s or education provider’s IT capacity is when it comes to effectively managing the tool and delivering support.
Some schools and organizations already have interactive tools established in their environments that provide the screen-based chat and document sharing functionalities needed to ensure ongoing interaction between students and the instructor. Only an audio and video platform with the ability to share screens and chat during conference calls is needed to complete the solution. In this case, with this level of interactivity already operational, adding Microsoft Teams would be an unnecessary layer of complexity to simply have the audio and/or video communication elements of the tool.
For an example like this, Zoom would be the better option for audio and video since it can be focused solely on the conference calls and live interaction needed outside the existing chat and document storage. Additionally, because Zoom has recording functionality and the ability to keep the chats that are posted within conference calls, these downloads can be pasted into the existing education tool to make them available to users who may not have been present. Also, because Zoom is being used by people for a wide range of personal and business reasons, it may be the tool of choice for students who are familiar with it.
Where there isn’t a tool established in a school’s or organization’s environment and communication exists in a piece-meal format with the inclusion of a video conferencing tool like Zoom or Skype as well as email, texting, live chat, and likely some sort of repository tool for documents and other files, it makes sense to go for a fully-integrated option like Teams. However, productivity is king and if a piece-meal system is effective for a group of people, or students are exceptionally resistant to working in another way, maintaining the status quo and adding other individual tools into the mix as needed can be effective. The short pains and long term gains need to be considered in this example and Teams may win out despite it causing some upset initially.
Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams will appeal to students who are used to an app-style structure. There are numerous apps for Teams that will deliver greater efficiency. Zoom alternatively is often integrated into other platforms like Slack and of note is the fact that it can be integrated into Office 365 which can bring it into Teams if desired.
In the debate over which is better, we come to something of a stalemate. It depends what students are comfortable with, what tools exist already and what is the easiest option is to employ for the course being taught. There is no obvious answer. It could be one or the other or both solutions. It is quite common for education providers to include one or more platforms to allow for fully-integrated student interactivity.
Choosing the right tools for educational purposes can be a challenge and the decision is often led by what is existing, what students and faculty are comfortable with and what is the best way to delivery course material. There are a number of options available on the market today and with the free versions of Zoom and Microsoft Teams delivering flexibility and function, taking education online is easier than one might think.