For the purposes of this blog I am going to make several distincitons and definitions: The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) will be considered to the one of the 14 or so UK commercial offers of a skinned, one stop shop, Content Management System, offering a range of tools and a level of ‘security’ to appease the most zealous technophobe. An Online Learning Environment (OLE) will be considered to be a similar suite of tools gathered by an organisation to meet the needs of that organisation, but not necessarily sourced from the same supplier.
In the UK the VLE market in schools was stimulated by the UK Government document, Harnessing Technology (2005), which specified how technology should be used by the wider learning community, including schools, to harness technology for learning.
The points made within it can be summarised as follows:
- Provide an integrated online information service for all citizens (Govenrment & Local Authority Websites – not really part of schools’ responsibilities)
- Ensure integrated online personal support for children and learners (a personalised online learning space & online reporting)
- Develop a collaborative approach to personalised learning activities (rich, shared content)
- Provide a good quality ICT training and support package for practitioners(horses were taken to water, but they didn’t drink)
- Provide a leadership and development package for organisational capability in ICT( SLICT, BSF & initial teacher education)
- Build a common digital infrastructure to support transformation and reform (Regional Broadband)
A Wordle of the Harnessing technology document reveals the total absence of the words Virtual, Environment and Platform.
The notion that by 2010 all schools needed a VLE is just plain wrong. What they need is the ability to provide the above services to a learner and their family.
What is a the function of a VLE as compared to an OLE?
I gathered some words used when discussing VLE implementation and use:
Rights for guests (or visitors)
******This is the institutional language of a prison.******
Did you know that most of the readers of this blog are a risk to children? Let me explain the logic: @ethinkingjnr is taught that strangers are dangerous and that the ‘interweb’ is a risky ,dangerous place where everyone is out to get him. You are a stranger to him and on the ‘inter web’: QED you are all a risk to him….its nonsense. We are teaching children to fear the world. The VLE is designed to pander to the worst paranoia of the weakest teachers. They were designed for the lowest common denominator. We have built prisons in the sky, to keep the world out control children’s thinking.
VLEs were designed from the ground up but the designers did not manage to design out the need for training. The systems in general are not intuitive. Though this is improving, they are becoming more flexible and dynamic. It also seems there is growing evidence of schools giving up on their VLEs (@chrisrat). Some have even argued that the VLE is dead or even undead (@timbuckteeth)
The VLE has been sold to many schools who make good use of 90% of the functionality, many more who use less than 50% and too many who use less than 10% (unsupported numbers). The issue here is that a school can’t buy the bits they want to implement at first, they buy it all and pay for it all, despite to needing it all yet. In the world of VLE phased implementation exists, but phased purchase does not.
This does not address the moodle experience, the moodle experience can be more flexible and is apparently ‘free’ or cheap. The issue here is that schools seem unable to evaluate the total cost of ownership of a moodle environment. A day for a teacher costs £200 (6 hours work) so £33 an hour. The cost of administrating any system must be added into any cost benefit analysis.
A new vocabulary?
I have been discussing this with my students and they came up with a suggestion to do away with the VLE and develop an Online Learning Environment (OLE), A collection of tools developed by the school using A web page as a front door linking to a suite of tools meeting the Harnessing Technology Agenda.
Here are links to their blogs:
I’m not challenging the concept of online learning, nor the existence of a coherent online environment for children to access learning. What I am challenging is the term VLE and what it has come to represent. It represents a time gone by, where knowledge was locked away deep in a silo. It does not embrace the freedom and beauty of the social web. It represents a prison in the sky.
If your VLE is better than that, then it isn’t a VLE, it’s an online environment, it’s a learning space or maybe its just a part of school – so give it a name…..so don’t say it is on the VLE, say it’s on ‘Malcolm’ or ‘Squiggle’. If you are being effective, then it is despite the technology of VLE, not because of it.
The VLE has become an elephant in the room, a solution waiting for a problem. The providers have encouraged schools to replicate their buildings in the cloud…not enabled them to embrace the most powerful. The VLE is another example of the tail wagging the dog, the cart being placed before the horse; we placed technology ahead of pedagogy.
Someone recently protested against my stance via Twitter – they said their Moodle environment was intuitive and after only 30 mins training everyone was uploading content. This sums up the problem; successful first steps are considered to be creating a file store online. That rather misses the point.
Content is not what online learning is about. Online learning is about conversation.