Video chats were once used primarily to connect friends and family members who couldn’t be together for holidays and birthdays; these days, however, they’re used as powerful communication tools everywhere from the highest mountains to the deepest ocean waters. But if a room full of 7-year-olds can Skype with a soldier in Afghanistan, then what might the possibilities be for today’s college class?

While Skype has hundreds of millions of fans, video-based learning discussions don’t necessarily start with the original video chat company. In the face of fierce competition from video calling newcomers like Viber, RaidCall, and so many more, new doors are opening every month for learning in the higher ed arena. Whether teaching, collaborating, or discussing education strategy, professionals are continuously exploring new video chat add-ons and apps.

HigherEd Live, for instance, is a weekly web show focused on the emerging role of social media and digital media marketing in higher education. The show’s hosts and guests prefer to use Google+ Hangout, since it allows up to 10 people—higher ed professionals, in this case—to video chat and broadcast their discussion live, all for free. Can’t listen live? The “Hangouts” are recorded and automatically uploaded to the host’s YouTube account, so anyone can view the video later and share. Students can use this technology to practice presentations, have mock debates, or take part in any number of studies, workshops, or labs.

With more ways than ever to interact, connect, record, and share, video chatting just may be your most important tool this year.