Remote vs virtual labs

The move to online teaching has led to a huge rise in the use of both remote and virtual laboratories. Here Dr Yeung explains how each works and outlines their strengths and weaknesses

Yau-Yuen Yeung's avatar
The Education University of Hong Kong
25 Aug 2020
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Key Details

This video will cover: 

00:20 Remote laboratories – what are they and how do they work? 

01:43 Virtual laboratories – what are they and how do they work?

02:28 A comparison of the pros and cons of remote and virtual labs.


Hi, I am Yau-Yuen Yeung and this is Mandy Tsang. We both come from the Education University of Hong Kong.

We are going to talk about the differences between remote and virtual laboratories.

Remote laboratories

First of all, what is a remote lab? Let’s have a quick tour of our remote lab, which is a place to develop and house some remote-controlled or online experiments.

As you can see, each experimental set-up is quite compact and contained within a box with a microcontroller for internet communication. Beside [it] there is an IP camera to deliver its visual output.

The experiments could be about chemistry, such as petroleum chemistry, chemical equilibrium, exothermic reaction and oxidation.

Or about biological processes like fermentation in winemaking and the respiration of plants under different colours of light.

Or about physics and technology such as lighting technology, electrical circuits, optics like reflection and polarisation of light, and environmental science like the generation of landfill gas for a month or more.

A learner can use any computer or mobile device to control the experiments and get the output at a remote place.

Virtual laboratories

While remote labs [have been] emerging rapidly in recent years, virtual labs have already become very common in many online STEM education platforms or offline education software.

Basically, those virtual experiments are simulated or computer-generated using some known or simplified scientific laws or mathematical equations.

They are usually delivered in the form of cartoons, animations, videos and more recently, engaging virtual reality and augmented reality with learners’ input or control.

After having a quick review of the remote and virtual labs, we may make a direct comparison between them:

For the nature of experiments, remote labs can deliver real-time and real-world results, possibly with new discoveries but the results from virtual labs are preprogrammed and non-authentic.

For the duration of experiments, remote lab refers to the actual timescale which may be a few minutes up to a few months long. For virtual experiments, their timescale may be edited to fit with the schedule of the lesson.

For some less well-known phenomena, remote labs can still provide proper and new results but the simulated results of virtual labs may be incorrect or inaccurate.

For error detection, remote labs can provide information for error analysis which is often absent in virtual labs.

For other aspects like the development cost, maintenance and physical space requirements, the differences between the two types of labs are quite obvious.

In conclusion, there are unique advantages and problems associated with each of the two labs. Your choice will depend on your actual needs.


This video was produced by Yau-Yuen Yeung is an adjunct professor in the department of science and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong working with Mandy Tsang, co-presenter and video editor and Leyla Liu on camera. 

Online experiments for effective STEM education  

3D Visualisation and Virtual Reality in Science Education 

Read the contribution from Yau-Yuen Yeung, adjunct professor at the Education University of Hong Kong, to our feature article “A practical guide to digital teaching and learning” 



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