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.

VLEs, MLEs and SharePoint 2010 as a Learning Platform- the series so far 1-12.

August 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: e-learning, SharePoint 2010 

As we head to the weekend I thought it would be useful to link up the posts I have been writing over the last two weeks on VLEs, MLEs and SharePoint 2010 as a Learning Platform. So far we are 12 posts in to the 15 post series and you can get all the links to each post below. Posts 13-15 will continue into the next week.

Post 1 What is a VLE?

Post 2 How does a VLE support learning? (part 1)

Post 3 How does a VLE support learning? (part 2)

Post 4 Why should educational institutions consider implementing a VLE?

Post 5 What is an MLE?

Post 6 What is a SharePoint Learning Platform?

Post 7 VLE, Learning Gateway or Learning Platform? Guest blog post from SharePoint MVP Alex Pearce

Post 8 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platform- MIS Integration

Post 9 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- VLE

Post 10 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- Tagging and Rating

Post 11 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- The Power of Search (1 of 3)

Post 12 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- The Power of Search (2 of 3)

Post 13 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom The Power of Searcch (3 of 3)

Post 14 Features of a SharePoint Learning Platfom- Social Features

Post 15 Where to find more

What is a SharePoint Learning Platform? SharePoint in Education e-learning series post 6

July 28, 2010 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: e-learning, SharePoint 

Over the last two days we have been looking at the ideas behind VLEs and MLEs with the following posts if you want to catch up.

Post 1 What is a VLE?

Post 2 How does a VLE support learning? (part 1)

Post 3 How does a VLE support learning? (part 2)

Post 4 Why should educational institutions consider implementing a VLE?

Post 5 What is an MLE and why should you implement one?

This leads us to the idea of a Learning Platform- what is it? I have a third diagram to illustrate what a Learning Platform is which has be generously provided by my good friend Alex Pearce.

Looking at the diagram you can see that a Learning Platform contains a VLE and you may think it is actually no different from an MLE. All the interoperability of an MLE is in evidence here with the various databases connecting up but a Learning Platform moves beyond and MLE in three ways.

Surfacing of information

The real beauty of a Learning Platform which I think many people have missed is the ability to surface vast amounts of data from disparate sources. Again you may think this is simply what an MLE will do but the crucial difference is the end user experience where they view and use all data within the Learning Platform. Whereas many educationalists saw the Learning Platform as being a feature rich resource it is simply a platform on which to create feature rich functionality. The key here is the potential for integration and as one end user once described, ‘a one stop shop for everything I need to do’.

Metadata and Taxonomy

Another key distinction for a Learning Platform can be seen in the green and blue wrappers around the diagram. The real power of a Learning Platform is the ability to collect, sort, index and aggregate data. Although people get hung up about what metadata is it can simply be described as the contextual information about your SharePoint content which can inform us about the subject, audience, author and intent of the data. In an educational context this is one of the most underused features of a Learning Platform but the ability to create metadata and integrate multiple sources of external data becomes a killer feature when you can….


One of the biggest challenges within an institution is the fine line between being data rich and having data overload. The final wrapper in a Learning Platform is the ability to search all of your content whether native to SharePoint or from an external database. Once your SharePoint content is tagged with metadata this of course becomes even more powerful and indexing within documents allows for a very powerful search experience.

What is an MLE and why is it not a VLE? SharePoint in Education e-learning series post 5.

July 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: e-learning 

In the first 4 posts of this series so far we have covered what a VLE is, what common features it has (see here and here) and reasons why educational institutions should consider implementation.

Following on from this I wanted to look at the differences between a VLE and what we call an MLE or Managed Learning Environment. Perhaps the best way to start looking at the differences is to look at the diagram below.

Image taken from the Excellence Gateway here

A Managed Learning Environment moves beyond thinking about a learning system to thinking about the operation of the whole educational institution. The primary focus is on the development of interoperability between all systems so that the institution is fully connected online. Whereas an MLE will have a VLE it is not the whole part of the environment. At the same time one of the key elements of the MLE will be to connect the VLE with other aspects of the institutions online environment such as the MIS (Management Information System).

From both the institutional, tutor and learner perspective an MLE is an important development for a number of reasons. The institution has a quick and easy grasp of number of learners on roll and can integrate supplementary information on drop out rates comparing them with the nature of the learners and other associated information. The tutor can monitor the progress of the learners through the learning modules and at the same time supplement this with wider information about the learner from different sources. Finally an MLE helps to create a learner centred environment where the learner has quick and easy access to all the information they need to support their study.

As a result the main advantages of implementing an MLE are:

  • Streamlining of learning resources for students and staff.
  • Instant Access to a rich range of data through one interface which can be accessed remotely.
  • Greater capacity for data exchange between individual silos within an organisation.
  • This in turn can massively reduce the administration burden.
  • Reduction in costs and efficiencies  through streamlined processes and interoperability.
  • Potential to attract a different client base through new methodologies and distance learning.
  • De Montfort University demonstrated that an MLE can lead to lower drop out rates.