Posts so far in this series
Post 1 What is a VLE?
Having covered the main features of a VLE this leaves us with the question- why should an educational institution consider implementing a VLE? If you are seeking executive approval to implement a VLE there are 6 key arguments you can make:
Please not the first 2 arguments relate largely to further and higher education
It makes sense to start with money as this is most likely to get attention from an executive sponsor, especially in the challenging financial context. On the one side there will be an IT investment which may be considerable but this will be small in comparison with the impact on your most expensive resources which are tutors and buildings. Once a VLE is implemented it is possible to run elements of you course at distance and with students working both independently and collaboratively online. Many colleges already run e learning days when students work at home and the reduction in the cost of staffing and use of buildings will be considerable.
Following on from the positive impact on cost is the potential for greater flexibility with resources. This does not always have to be in terms of reduction in teaching staff and buildings. It is also possible to increase the number of learners in the institution and the pressure on university places is one example of where a VLE could be beneficial. The ability to increase course provision and at the same time maintain the physical resource will allow educational institutions to more efficiently use resources to their maximum effect.
Can educational institutions really justify learners coming on to campus for 1 or two lessons? This was very much my experience in the 90s where I was splitting a dozen lectures and seminars over an entire week. With the use of a VLE institutions can rationalise attendance at lectures and seminars so that learners are best using their time. This need not be a reduction in teaching time but simply allocating specific days for specific students to attend on site. The VLE can then provide a vital communication tool to keep learners connected with other learners and tutors. In a school setting a VLE becomes almost essential in a vocational setting. Continually moving learners around different educational sites is highly inefficient and the ability for learners to receive some or all of the learning at their base is a valuable resource.
Alongside the financial arguments there are also 3 educational arguments for a VLE
Access to resources
The ability to study anytime and anywhere is a significant benefit gained through the adoption of a VLE. All physical resources are scarce but by providing learning materials online students can access the same resource as frequently and flexibly as they like. All learners work best in differing environments and at different times so by allowing greater access to learning resources the likely impact is improved outcomes.
As well as giving greater access to resource the nature of resources within a VLE is likely to have an impact on learning. Access to online learning is often more of a kinesthetic experience with the learner navigating through the resources which involves them feeling more engaged in the learning. As well as this if a VLE contains both communication tools, rich media and simulations the learner is likely to feel more involved and stimulated to learn. A VLE will undoubtedly incorporate a greater range of learning styles and need not replace other essential face to face learning.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for implementing a VLE is the changing nature of learners. As I have often commented the learners I first taught 10 years ago needed to be shown how to use word. Those I was teaching 5 years ago needed to be taught how to use Movie Maker. Those I teach now need to be taught…. nothing! Although this is an exaggeration it is undoubtedly the case that we are now seeing the emergence of digital natives in our schools and educational institutions. In this context it is not so much a case of why have a VLE as can you really run a course without some online learning elements for today’s digital learners?
So far in this series on e-learning and the us of terms VLE, MLE and Learning Platform we have covered:
Post 1 What is a VLE?
What other features does a VLE contain which support or manage the learning process?
4 Collaboration tools
VLEs can act as effective collaboration tools in both their use of communication tools mentioned earlier but also in the collaborative use of documents. Tutors can share and move documents and resources within learning modules to stimulate collaboration amongst students. Students can also work collaboratively in groups, sharing project documents and resources within shared areas. In the latest version of SharePoint 2010 document collaboration is taken a step further with web apps. These allow students to simultaneously work on office documents, accessing them through the cloud with no need for Office software on their computers.
5 Assessment tools
This feature is perhaps the one which is most commonly associated with what we think of as a VLE. Typically you will expect a range of both formative and summative assessment to be possible with a standard VLE. Tutors should be able to create packages which are SCORM compliant using authoring tools (more on this next week) and automatically send these to learners individually or within groups. The learning resource will often contain learning units which can include quizzes and tests. Self tests will allow students to measure their own progress whilst quizzes can provide feedback for both the learner and the tutor on areas where understanding is not fully embedded.
To complete the common features of a VLE you would expect some form of analytics package. This allows tutors and course administrators to examine information on when learners access the courses and how frequently they have used the resources. In some cases it will also allow a granular analysis of which parts of the course have been most and least used which can support reflection on the effectiveness of different learning resources. A number of VLEs also provide analytical feedback on student assessment so that progress can be monitored throughout the course.
Coming up on Tuesday 26th July
Post 4 Why should educational institutions consider implementing a VLE?
Post 5 What is an MLE?
Post 6 Why should educational institutions consider implementing an MLE?
Having established what a VLE or Virtual Learning Environment is it makes sense to look at what the core features are which support or enable learning. I have broken these down into 6 areas which are shown in the diagram from the last post.
6 Features of a VLE which support or enable learning
- Controlled Access and Organisation
- Information Dissemination
- Communication Tools
Controlled Access and Organisation
One of the core components of VLEs is the ability to manage and control access to learning within the system. This at its most basic form allows the ability to structure courses and modules of learning so that they can easily and efficiently be delivered and accessed by learners. Going beyond this organisation of learning is the organisation of classes and groups. This allows resources to be directed at specific groups of learners whether it be a whole cohort or individual class. Finally a VLE should allow individual learners a space to organise their own learning materials and ideally this should be customisable.
Once you have a secure environment which allows the organisation of both the learners and learning modules it should then be possible to share learning materials using your VLE. At the most basic level this can take the form of course materials including notes, handouts and background reading. Beyond this good VLEs will allow the integration of rich media such as video and podcasts. As well as this the ability to create and embed fully interactive content such as simulations will exist within some VLEs.
At the core of a VLE should be the ability to communicate and this should be communication which is tutor to student and student-student. This can of course be on a 1-1 level or within whole groups or subsections of groups. One aspect of communication will surround the course materials or learning modules and allows learners to build on existing knowledge and potentially develop new ideas. Most VLEs enable this through the use of discussion forums and chat rooms. Another aspect of communication supports the course delivery and organisation. This is where online calenders and timetables display key milestones and events within the course (e.g. submission deadlines).
So to start the series lets ask the eternal question- what is a VLE? A quick trawl on the Internet will show that people often use the term Learning Platform and VLE as if they are the same thing. Hopefully this series will clear that up and I will share both some of my thoughts and the excellent resources that are available on this topic. To start with take a look at this video on ‘What is a VLE’ which is a useful and quick way of summing things up.
So a VLE is a Virtual Learning Environment which is simply the extension of a long history of developing distance learning which has been evolving from as fa back as 1892! VLEs have a number of functions but in their simplest sense they support teachers in the delivery and management of online courses. We will get into the detail in post two and three but the following diagram is a useful starter for visualising the components of a VLE.
Image take from JISC Infonet here
The diagram shows the 6 key features of a VLE I will be covering in the more detail in the next two posts you can read later today.