Monday, March 1, 2010

Online safety for virtual learning


By Jessica McCurdy Crooks

Online learning has revolutionized the way we gather and share knowledge, but it is not without its share of risks. The format possesses more advantages than disadvantages, but it still pays to be aware of potential pitfalls. Virtual learning solutions provide some level of security, but you can take steps to protect yourself as well.

Most people who take to the net for their studies are interested in higher learning or skills-based learning. Virtual classrooms are filled with working people who want to upgrade their skills for a promotion at their current company or a better job somewhere else. Of course, there are many people who just want to learn something new. Interestingly, the Internet itself has created the need for a whole new set of skills.

What is virtual learning?

Virtual learning is a learning environment that utilizes communication tools to simulate a traditional classroom setting. Virtual learning was the next natural step in distance learning. Since the 1990s, there has been a boom in the development of collaboration tools. What used to be done by mail is now done by email and instant messaging in real time with the use of webcams and microphones.

Just like in any classroom setting, the teacher must provide a learning environment for students. Some would argue that e-learning is superior to standard teaching as it allows for greater management of the forum. However, like anything else that involves the Internet, risks exist for anyone involved in the virtual learning environment.

The dangers of virtual learning

There are many angles from which a prospective student can be targeted. Signing up for classes is generally done online, and this poses the risk of personal information being leaked. Credit card information can be skimmed by hackers prowling the Internet daily.

Participants are often emailed information such as login details and passwords for joining classes. These can be intercepted and the end result will be unauthorized persons having access to the session. Depending on the established parameters this can lead also to viruses or dangerous links being uploaded to other users' computers.

Protecting yourself in the virtual learning environment

The risk of an intruder gaining access to a closed e-learning session is a very real possibility. Apart from the built-in safeguards of the software being used, participants can also minimize their risk by using their computer's firewall.

It's important to note that the firewall does not always safeguard you against intrusion and some types of computer viruses. To activate the firewall in most Windows installations, do the following:

  • Click "Start" then "Control Panel"
  • Click on "Security Center"
  • If your firewall is activated you will see 'ON' beside it