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Virtual Global Learning (VGL)

Virtual Global Learning (VGL), also referred to as Virtual Exchange (VE) or Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), is an instructional model where students are given collaborative tasks in partnership with students from other organizations outside of Canada. This page is intended to assist and guide McMaster faculty who wish to explore and develop VGL within their courses or research projects.

Expandable List

Virtual Global Learning (VGL) refers to a “teaching and learning paradigm that promotes the development of intercultural competence across shared multicultural learning environments.” 1 It “is an approach that brings students and professors together across cultures to learn, discuss and collaborate as part of their class. Professors partner to design the experience, and students partner to complete the activities designed. COIL becomes part of the class, enabling all students to have a significant intercultural experience within their course of study.” 2

Collaborative activities embrace flexibility and innovative practices. They may be a short as 2 weeks (perhaps with only 2 or 3 supervised lessons), they can be between students with shared or different learning outcomes in their respective courses. Assignments or learnings can be demonstrated in text, audio, image or video. Student reflection on intercultural aspects of your VGL program can be foregrounded or balanced with subject-related outcomes. You can develop a program which is appropriate for you, your students and your overall course outcomes.

Note on terminology: “Virtual Exchange” is can be considered the generic term, however “Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL)” appears to be the prevalent term. Other common terms include: “Global Learning”, “Globally Networked Learning”, “Global Virtual Collaboration”, etc. Although there is variation in naming, all essentially refer to the same category of activities.

1 pg.4, Faculty Guide for Collaborative Online International Learning Course Development, retrieved October 2020,, SUNY COIL Center

2 SUNY COIL Center,


Benefits for students:
– understand course topics from diverse and intercultural perspectives
– experience the benefits of exchange without the cost and barriers associated with international travel
– enhance employability skills, ie., gain practical experience and micro-credential/digital badging related to collaboration and teamwork in intercultural context

Benefits for faculty members:
– create more deliberative and diverse engagement with course or research topics
– mechanism to develop further faculty connections and partnerships
– meaningful professional development experience
– contribute to the strategic vision of McMaster as an inclusive, diverse and globally-engaged institution


The scalability of VGL allows faculty members to start with small-scale projects and there are many online resources to help you understand the basics and get started. Below are links to some recommended resources:

If you are interested in starting a VGL program please contact us using the form below.

Through the Office of International Affairs we are able to offer support to our faculty:

  • finding and coordinating partnership development;
  • developing your course program and activities; and,
  • funding and accessing other resources for your VGL programs.

Please use the McMaster Faculty VGL Interest Form, or contact Paul Leegsma at leegsmp @ for more information.

Only fill out this form if you are a McMaster University faculty member actively interested starting a VGL project or are looking to find an international partner. If you’re representing another university interested in a VGL collaboration, please contact Paul Leegsma at