Virtual global learning


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on international learning programs (study abroad, research abroad, international co-op, etc.). Here at SFU, the shift to online learning and the suspension of travel led to the suspension of international learning programs. However, it has pushed us to innovate and consider new ways to deliver international learning online. 

In May of 2020, a small working group consisting of representatives from SFU International, International Services for Students, the Centre for Educational Excellence, the Beedie School of Business, the Faculty of Education and Work Integrated Learning came together to explore opportunities for virtual global learning (VGL) at SFU. This work was carried out with the help of two co-op students. The main goal of the Virtual Global Learning working group was to create resources to guide SFU faculty members in conducting their own VGL activities.

See also: Types of VGL programs

What is virtual global learning? 

Virtual global learning combines intercultural and global learning with online delivery. This an emergent field within international education, and there is as yet no standardized terminology. At other institutions, you might find the terms “virtual exchange” or “collaborative online international learning” used to express the same idea.  

At SFU, virtual global learning is being used as an umbrella term to include a range of global learning programs such as collaborative online international learning (COIL), virtual student exchanges, virtual international research and co-op, embedded joint projects, international guest lectures. 

See also: Glossary

Why pursue a VGL activity?

What distinguishes VGL activities from other online deliveries is that they are intentionally designed and delivered to foster global competencies in students, including intercultural competencies. VGL offers a number of benefits:

  • Students have the opportunity to gain global perspectives within their field of study without needing to spend time abroad (Jones & Reiffenrath, 2018).
  • Culturally diverse classrooms allow students and instructors to practice inclusive learning, teaching and assessment (Jones & Reiffenrath, 2018).
  • Collaborating with a variety of people from around the world provides amazing opportunities to network and build both formal and informal connections.
  • Working in an online environment with a diverse group of people offers opportunities to enhance creativity in addressing challenges that may arise.
  • Virtual exchange programs such as VGL are an effective way to incorporate global, intercultural and digital fluency/online collaboration competencies into the curriculum without the need for physical mobility. Studies have shown that these competencies are becoming increasingly sought after in the job market (ACE, 2016).

See also: Virtual global learning outcomes


Virtual global learning resources


[ACE] American Council on Education Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (2016). Connecting Classrooms: Using ONline Technology to Deliver Global Learning. Internationalization in Action, 1–30.

Jones, E., & Reiffenrath, T. (2018, August 21). Internationalisation at Home in practice. EAIE.

Virtual Exchange – Faculty. Centre for International Programs. (n.d.).