Traditional and Virtual Study Abroad: The Strong, Invisible Bridge!

All you need to know about online and virtual content for study abroad and international education.


Upon hearing terms such as virtual study abroad programs, virtual mobility, COIL, virtual internships, live sessions, virtual experiences, hybrid solutions, or other similar terms, you might have asked yourself this question:


“How will these learning methods enhance (or replace) traditional study abroad programs?”


At SAA we believe that technology, especially online and virtual educational experiences, can create unprecedented access to global perspectives for students. 

We don’t believe that technology is or ever should be a replacement for in-person education abroad. It should be an enhancement!  

In this article, we want to help you better understand online and virtual study abroad solutions available to you and your students; use them to your advantage, and support your internationalization goals.


Let’s start with the online part!


Live Streaming Experiences


Those are now popular and very useful. In fact, You can have a video call between your class and a Marine Biology researcher in Belize who is sitting next to a turtle nest. Live streaming not only sparks interest in students but also creates a simple visualization of exactly what a potential field of study could look like. By connecting students with experts in the field, they have the chance to be inspired and ask questions they wouldn’t have thought of in a normal class. We have a section dedicated to live streaming experiences dedicated to international education. Learn more here. 


Live Events and Workshops

Many organizations offer live events and professional development workshops, and while most are designed for international educators or faculty, there are also opportunities for students to learn more about international opportunities. These might include virtual international job/internship fairs, international scholarship and fellowship information sessions, global networking sessions, and more. During these professional events and workshops, students can learn about opportunities in the international education world, including trending topics, challenges, and other insights.


Pre-Recorded Online Session 

Similar to live sessions and events, recorded sessions are past events uploaded on the cloud and made accessible to faculty, educators, and students. For example, you can access recorded sessions on a particular topic or an introduction of a local expert or guide speaking from a laboratory, foreign university, or other unique sites. These pre-recorded sessions can be found in many places online. By using pre-recorded sessions through international education providers, you can find the most relevant and high-quality international content.


Online Exchange (COIL)

COIL, or Collaborative Online International Learning, is defined by Coventry University as “virtual mobility experiences that are embedded into the formal curriculum and provide students with an opportunity to interact with peers at international universities and professionals.” The professor, sometimes with the help of external consultants, finds professors from a different university (usually abroad) and together creates a common project that supports both courses’ content. The learning outcomes are based on the teaching methods shared amongst the different institutions.


Online Internships

Online internships have become very popular since the onset of the pandemic. Students that want to gain experience at a company can now do it without being physically present. Skipping travel costs and time factors have led to increased opportunities for students who may not have considered an internship otherwise. While it’s often possible to find a free placement, sometimes students or institutions will have to pay an agency in order to speed up the process and find the exact placement that can add value to the student’s career path. 


Other Online Opportunities

There are no limits to what you can do online in order to increase study abroad participation or further internationalize your campus. For example, you can use Discord to create a new channel for your university campus or to create a page in Wechat (Chinese for Facebook) in case you want to interact more with the Asian students. You can hold virtual student fairs or simply build an IE group on Facebook. 


Now that we have taken a look at various types of online programming, we can get a bit more technical and dig a bit more into the virtual world!


360 Interactive Content


360 interactive content, found on various platforms, allows students and professors to interact with locations in an engaging, immersive way. There are some scattered videos in 360 on YouTube and other platforms. Study Abroad Association is one of the few organizations to offer virtual global content in four areas of study. Click here to learn more about 360 Global Learning Experiences and enhance your classroom with globally-infused interactive content. 


360 Modules and Classes

360 modules and classes are similar to MOOCs but focused on one subject (for example, Introduction to Humanities) accessible through a 360 platform with learning outcomes and pre-made quizzes. Here you can see a sample video from Central Piedmont Community College and how professor Allan Di Donato has successfully implemented the platform in his course. The module can be fully self-standing allowing students to register on their own and go through it at their own pace. Alternatively, they can be guided by a professor at that institution. Institutions are already adopting this system to generate revenue while developing more globally competent and competitive students.


3D Representation 

3d objects for higher education

3D objects are, in essence, replicas of real objects. Adobe has been using this technology with VR goggles to facilitate nursing students with their study of the human body. Abobe has also launched “Adobe Substance 3D assets” where professors can customize models, lights, and other materials created by world-class specialists. Recently, Microsoft has partnered with the Ministry of Tourism in Greece to recreate the original temples without the missing parts, allowing anyone to see what they looked like thousands of years ago.


Hybrid Programs

Many institutions are starting to implement hybrid study abroad programs on their campuses. This can be done in several different ways. One possibility is to design the first part of the course online or virtually in 360, and build the second part of the course physically in the place of interest (Italy, for example). Once the students arrive at the foreign university, not only will they already be knowledgeable and aware but also more motivated and inspired to learn all about that place and the field of study. The mixing and matching do not stop there, though. You can also mix the 360 component with live streaming sessions, and then build the traditional program around what you have covered in the classroom. Hybrid programs have proven useful for pre-departure orientations, as well as allowing students to still gain international experience should a trip be canceled. 


Now that you are a bit more aware of various online and virtual study abroad models, let’s return to the question you had at the beginning of the article:


“How will these learning methods enhance (or replace) traditional study abroad programs?”


The answer is simple. None of the above methods are designed to substitute anything, nor be a “patch” during the pandemic. All the above solutions are now available to institutions to HELP you with internationalizing your campus. These methods often serve as a bridge to traditional study abroad, while also making students more globally aware and open-minded. 


Online and virtual solutions have been a great addition to current tools available to international educators, with proven results such as effectively increasing enrollment, generating additional tuition revenue, and promoting traditional study abroad, at no cost to the institution. In addition to these benefits, you have:


  • DEI – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By offering globally-infused courses that are aligned with general education courses, institutions can reach a larger student population including concurrent/dual credit high school students and non-traditional students.


  • Accessibility

Utilizing online modalities reduces barriers such as cost and time. Additionally, it makes global education available to students who may not be able to travel abroad due to a disability or other access barrier. 


  • Awareness

Thanks to technology, we have the chance to increase awareness of global education and therefore participation in study abroad programs. 


  • Sustainability

Students who have the chance to explore locations online before they travel are more inclined to be respectful and receptive of other cultures, customs, and people. Also, online programming generally has a very low carbon footprint. 


To find out more or simply to get a free consultation, feel free to book a quick 30-minute meeting with us HERE