The Personal Learning Environment. Moving beyond the VLE and SharePoint Learning Platform.

Over the last decade we have seen an enormous growth in use of technology within education. From the use of laptops and digital projectors to smartboards and VLE’s all of which have been aimed at improving learning. As a relatively new teacher I was shown my first ever VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) in early 2004, a moodle system which we began to use at my second school. We often joked that as teachers we sat spellbound by a flash animation as the presenter seemed to promise us that the system would cure all educational problems and perhaps world famine at the same time. Previous blog posts have covered the features of a VLE and if you are unfamiliar with them you can catch up here and see the diagram below.

Since this time I have moved on to a third school and was involved in the original development of the SharePoint Learning Platform which has developed a significant reputation at Twynham School. You will notice the change in terminology and Tony Parkin once commented to me that over a number of years from 2007 the term VLE fell off the ICT Register tag cloud as the term Learning Platform rose to the top. Why did the idea of the VLE lose popularity? The original vision of a system which could assign track and grade assessment has proven largely elusive beyond predominantly simple ‘multiple choice’ and’true/false’ style questions to identify understanding. As a result educators have created a vision for a Learning Platform which contains a VLE but at the same time carries a wider range of other learning attributes which centre around the platform. The diagram showing a SharePoint Learning Platform can be seen below and has more detail about it is in the blog post here.

Amidst all this development and millions of pounds of investment within schools a key question is increasingly being asked. What has the impact been on learning? In the case of Twynham School we have certainly seen a positive impact through the Learning Platform. Students describe the availability of resources in an ‘anytime, anywhere’ environment as a real benefit to learning and especially revision. Our SharePoint 2010 Learning Platform also contains a rich range of features from streaming media and podcasting to rewards systems, performance tracking and integrated learning modules. Our work with the Learning Platform over the last 4 years has undoubtedly added value to our school community and supported learners with resources, input and guidance. Despite this over the last 18 months there has been an increasing view that it is time for us to move beyond this current work and begin a new adaptation of our online learning model with a renewed focus.

Having spent considerable time on this line of thinking a blog post popped up on the radar late last week which helped clarify our thinking. The post from big think reflected on the 2011 K-12 Horizon report and challenged the level of percieved progress we have made with our use of technology and its impact on learning. In the second half of the post it identifies something we know to be true: most of the investment in technology made in education has been in the area of ‘replicative technologies’. These are commonly technology tools which are teacher centric and replace traditional educational practice. The list of replicative technologies in the blog post is worth repeating here as it does bring the context into stark focus:

Replicative Technologies: from 'Big Think'

In the case of our Learning Platform we can certainly see elements of replicative behaviour as paper resources move to the file share and then to the subject gateways of the SharePoint Learning Platform. So is this all doom and gloom? As the post goes on to say the move to replicative technologies is an understandable first step for educators who move educational practice to technology in a way which is most familiar to them. The key challenge for us all at this moment is best summed up at the end of the post. In it the author rightly asserts that, ‘ The question is whether educator adoption of replicative technologies eventually will lead to more transformative, student-centered uses of digital learning tools or whether the current wave of educator tool usage simply will be replaced by whatever is the next generation of replicative technologies’.

Refelcting on these ideas it is clear to see that the best practive we currently identify by those at the cutting edge of technology use within education has one key attribute in common: it is student centric. It is for this reason that we should all ensure our VLE’s, MLE’s Learning Platforms, Learning Gateways and whatever it is we want to call them increasingly become one thing. A personal learning environment where students can add, edit, tag, comment, search, share and review their learning. This is surely the reason behind our use of technology within education: to promote independance and interdependance amongst learners and instant interaction and feedback with students and teachers to ensure we are engaging in meaningful learning.

Features of a SharePoint Learning Platform- MIS Integration

July 29, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: e-learning, Learning Platform, SharePoint 

Having taken you through the differences between a VLE, MLE and Learning Platform I thought it would be useful to exemplify features of a SharePoint Learning Platform. You will be unsurprised to know that I will be using examples from Twynham School’s Learning Gateway to illustrate the different elements which can create a rich Learning Platform.

The first example is integration of what schools in the UK call an MIS or Management Information System. The classic example is our Online Reporting web parts which can be seen below.

The actual student details and contacts are removed but this shows a typical profile of timetable, attendance and performance which all students parents and teachers can see directly through our Learning Platform.

In addition to Online Reporting we are able to pull through a wide range of data which helps school leaders to manage the school. The image below shows the Headline GCSE results for the school in 2007/8. These appear instantly within the SharePoint Learning Platform and can then be interrogated by Faculties, Subjects, Class and student (more on this nearer exam results).

A recent addition to our Learning Gateway is the ability to pull headline attendance data from the MIS and interrogate it to look at different groupings of student and their attendance levels. An example of a report is shown below.

VLE, Learning Gateway or Learning Platform? Guest blog post from SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce

July 28, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: e-learning, Learning Platform, SharePoint 

As I have been working through this series I had contact from SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce who I have worked with for over three years. He works directly in education on Local Authority wide projects and has recently been writing about VLEs, Learning Gateway and Learning Platforms. As I was writing a series on SharePoint in Education he kindly offered to add his own thoughts based on his experience.

Alex Pearce writes his own blog which can be found here

Guest post by SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce

In recent months I have had numerous discussions about what the differences are between a Virtual Learning Environment, a Learning Gateway and a Learning Platform.  Other conversations I have had is ‘what should I name my environment?’  So what is the difference?

VLE
A Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool that can assist you in your lessons from assigning a piece of work to it being a whole topic or course.

With past experience I have used SharePoint Learning Kit as a single file delivery tool.  Of course like any other VLEs, SharePoint Learning Kit can assign the documents to the Learner at the selected time and also auto mark the SCORM file quiz you have created.  As an addition to SharePoint Learning Kit, there is the SLK Course Builder that lets you assign a whole set of documents over time.

A great example of this was a school I saw using Moodle.  Due to the lack of demand they couldn’t get a full class of students for Religious Studies, so they created a course in Moodle where they assigned the work throughout the year.  Unfortunately they still had to have 4 lessons throughout the year after school as the exam board required a discussion/debate as part of the curriculum.  The great news for the school was that all the students passed the GCSE with an A* to C.  The school also decided through consultation with students that they would do all this work after school so it would allow the students to do an additional GCSE if they choose to.  This also meant they had another 30 students take the Religious Studies GCSE.

So a Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool for your lessons and courses.

Learning Gateway

Learning Gateway is a framework and management tool for your school.  There are no right and wrong ways of creating your Learning Gateway but the idea is to publish all the computer based data through a single portal.

As you can see from the diagram above there are some fundamental elements of a Learning Gateway.   The main point from this is that everything is published through a single portal and even though these elements are separate in the image above, they can connect and migrate between each of them.

A Learning Gateway doesn’t have to have a single VLE, it can have multiple solutions.  You should have the right products for the right lesson or course you want to deliver to your students.  Is there one VLE out there that can do everything for every teacher in their school?

The gradebook feature of your VLE is essential to ensure your parents can access the right data about the progress of their pupils.  This can be presented in your VLE along with the parent handbook/policies, recent school newsletters, parent calendar and other information that changes frequently for the parents.  They have their own username and password and collect the information that is provided from the school MIS database such as their childs timetable, attendance.  This is what the portal layer of the Learning Gateway will present.  The gradebook should also allow teaching staff and senior leaders to monitor the progress of students in a simple and easy way.

A Learning Gateway is a document management solution for your school, your policies and management documents but also your curriculum resource that your students can log onto to access.

While working at Great Barr School we implemented a Governors portal which allowed them to have access to a secure email server that they could email sensitive information to each other within a secure environment.  During a conversation with the Chair of the Governors he said that they spent the first 2 hours reading documents about students before getting down to business.  Having implemented this into the school for these key stake holders, they were able to read a document and make point about them in their collaboration meeting so their meetings became more productive and less time consuming.

A Learning Gateway incorporates all your internal services within your school into a single portal for all your stakeholders.

Learning Platform


A Learning Platform is where you take a Learning Gateway to the next step.  In the image above we show all the internal services at the schools.  A Learning Platform incorporates all the external services as well.  These services can come from your Local Authority, the local government or other cloud based solutions.  What we want to achieve is a single place of all content, with a single sign on and a centralised search so the end user can find the learning resources they need for that lesson.

We also have a centralised taxonomy so all the schools in that Learning Platform tags their resources with the same term it allows collaboration between schools, staff and students.  This is where the search comes into play even more to allow more resources available to the teacher and student.

For an effective Learning Platform a Country wide taxonomy is required so external services from government agencies such as the Department of Education and Partnership for schools have their resources tagged with the same tags as the learning resources within a school.  This could be taken into a worldwide education taxonomy allowing international schools to search resources in other country and then adding the different languages for the same work can benefit students who don’t speak English as a their main language.

The image below is taken from a presentation I have given a few times about Learning Platforms.  It shows how external services can be integrated into a single user experience that is not just for the schools but potentially for the whole school district. Under pinning all of these is the taxonomy and search.

A fully integrated Learning Platform can only be achieved when all parties have their services available in the Learning Platform in the same standard as all the others.

One key element to a Learning Platform that pulls in many services is the Identity Management Solutions also known as IdM.  When a user navigates from the portal layer into the city library website the user should be given an experience that suites their need such as books that are relevant to their age.   Many of these systems will require a user to authenticate but this is where the IdM and single sign on solutions plays in and allows students to move seamlessly between websites giving them learning resources they actually need.

Another key element is the MIS (the school Management Information System) as many schools will need to import/export information with the Learning Platform as well as present information to the learner, teacher, school and the local authority.  A standard of exporting data is required (such as SIF http://www.sifinfo.org) to allow data about the learner to move to and from but also including grades they have achieved in the VLE so they can be used to generate reports and pass these to other agencies.  With the correct trend analysis of these grades a user can start to learn individually with the Learning Platform auto assigning work to the learner based on their skill across all subjects, giving the best, individual learning program to a student.

So what is a Learning Platform?  A Learning Platform incorporates all internal services and external services a school can use into a single portal allowing the user to search from one location and find the most relevant learning resource they need at that time.

What is a Learning Platform?

January 24, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Learning Platform, SharePoint 

This week on a number of occasions I came across people linking to a video about Learning Platforms. I didn’t have the chance to look at the particular link so just favourited it to look at later. Having just sat down to look at it now I thought it was well worth passing it straight on to other people. It made me think that despite writing about SharePoint in particular and Learning Platforms in general I have never articulated what either are. The casual observer who arrives at my blog must be very confused! The video below has challenged me to sit down and think about explaining SharePoint as a Learning Platform in the next few weeks and put a post up. For now I encourage you to take a look at the excellent video below from Chris Thomson (@electricchalk) and Aaron Bowler both of whom work for Sheffield East CLC.

What is a Learning Platform? from Chris Thomson on Vimeo.