Virtual learning environment

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A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting, as distinct from a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) where the focus is on management. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment (particularly of types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice), communication, uploading of content, return of students' work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces.

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement traditional face to face classroom activities, commonly known as Blended Learning.

These systems usually run on servers, to serve the course to students Multimedia and/or web pages.

In 'Virtually There' a book and DVD pack distributed freely to schools by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning Foundation (YHGfL) Professor Stephen Heppell writes in the foreword: "Learning is breaking out of the narrow boxes that it was trapped in during the 20th century; teachers' professionalism, reflection and ingenuity are leading learning to places that genuinely excite this new generation of connected young school students - and their teachers too. VLEs are helping to make sure that their learning is not confined to a particular building, or restricted to any single location or moment."


[edit] Similar terms

A VLE is a computer program that facilitates computerized learning or e-learning. Such e-learning systems are sometimes also called Learning Management System (LMS), Content Management System (CMS), Learning Content Management System (LCMS), Managed Learning Environment (MLE), Learning Support System (LSS), Online Learning Centre (OLC) or Learning Platform (LP); it is education via computer-mediated communication (CMC) or Online Education.

A more correct term may be a virtual environment for learning, rather than virtual learning environment. This removes any ambiguities and identifies that it is the environment which is virtual and not the learning.

In the United States, CMS and LMS are the more common terms, however LMS is more frequently associated with software for managing corporate training programs rather than courses in traditional education institutions.

In the United Kingdom and many European countries the terms VLE and MLE are favored; however, it is important to realize that these are two very different things. A VLE can be considered a subsystem of an MLE, whereas MLE refers to the wider infrastructure of information systems in an organization that support and enable electronic learning on a wider scale. In fact a rather pedantic reading of the term MLE could be extended to encompass the physical environment in which learning takes place (i.e. a school). Also the use of VLE avoids confusion with the use of LMS to mean "Library Management System" (which is more commonly referred to as Integrated Library System, or ILS, in the United States).

Becta, in the UK, have coined the term learning platform to cover both MLE and VLE as used in the schools sector. 'The term learning platform describes a broad range of ICT systems used to deliver and support learning. Through a learning platform, hardware, software and supporting services are brought together to enable more effective ways of working within and outside the classroom. At the heart of any learning platform is the concept of a personalized online learning space for the pupil. This space should offer teachers and pupils access to stored work, e-learning resources, communication and collaboration with peers, and the facility to track progress. [1]

[edit] Facilities

A VLE should make it possible for a course designer to present to students, through a single, consistent, and intuitive interface, all the components required for a course of education or training. Although logically it is not a requirement, in practice VLEs always make extensive use of computers and the Internet. A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • The syllabus for the course
  • Administrative information including the location of sessions, details of pre-requisites and co-requisites, credit information, and how to get help
  • A notice board for up-to-date course information
  • Student registration and tracking facilities, if necessary with payment options
  • Basic teaching materials. These may be the complete content of the course, if the VLE is being used in a distance learning context, or copies of visual aids used in lectures or other classes where it is being used to support a campus-based course.
  • Additional resources, including reading materials, and links to outside resources in libraries and on the Internet.
  • Self-assessment quizzes which can be scored automatically
  • Formal assessment procedures
  • Electronic communication support including e-mail, threaded discussions and a chat room, with or without a moderator
  • Differential access rights for instructors and students
  • Production of documentation and statistics on the course in the format required for institutional administration and quality control
  • All these facilities should be capable of being hyperlinked together
  • Easy authoring tools for creating the necessary documents including the insertion of hyperlinks - though it is acceptable (arguably, preferable) for the VLE to be designed so that standard word processors or other office software can be used for authoring.

In addition, the VLE should be capable of supporting numerous courses, so that students and instructors in a given institution (and, indeed, across institutions) experience a consistent interface when moving from one course to another.

[edit] Popularity

Open University Support System

Universities and other institutions of higher and further education are increasingly turning to VLEs in order to:

  • Economize on the time of teaching staff, especially when they are also involved in research and administration. The extent of the economy over traditional "talk-and-chalk" teaching is not yet clear, but for instructors without web development expertise, using a VLE absorbs less time and produces a more professional result.
  • Provide a service for students who increasingly look to the internet as the natural medium for finding information and resources.
  • Ensure that quality control requirements are met by providing a standard vehicle for collecting the required information
  • Facilitate the integration of distance and campus-based learning or of learning on different campuses.

In the UK schools are being encouraged to make use of learning platforms. The DCSF in the UK government has published an eStrategy[2] outlining priorities that include every learner in schools having access to an online learning space and e-portfolio.[3]

[edit] Transferring course content

Most VLEs support Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard way to upload, launch and track courses. There are no commonly used standards that define how the learner's performance within a course should be transferred from one VLE to another.

Some institutions have attempted to combat this problem by agreeing to share common platforms. Use of open source VLEs such as Moodle (moodle is also referred to as a CMS or Course Management System) have more recently enabled institutions to share content more easily. For the schools sector in the UK the DCSF via Becta has defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability.[4]

[edit] Systems available

For those wishing to deliver e-learning there are many free open source and proprietary VLEs available for use. On-demand e-learning services are also a popular choice because they can be deployed in minutes and don't require instructors & institutions to run their own servers.

Many VLEs are placed on a web server. In a typical VLE there are one or more programs or languages that provides the user (Teacher-Student) interface, and which interacts with a database. For example, a VLE might use PHP as its web language/program, with MySQL as a database.

VLEs are increasingly found in new niches. These include new emerging technologies, as well as specialized markets. A VLE can be deployed on a USB drive as a child, which synchronizes from time to time with its web based parent. VLEs can be used for training or in something as specialized as to meet ISO 9000 certification requirements.

Emerging technologies include Sloodle, a merge of Second Life, Moodle with virtual reality and course management.[citation needed] This early development approach hints at new options for enabling learning in a social, immersive, and interactive way. Another 3D virtual learning environment called Edusim brings a lessons driven 3D virtual environment to the classroom interactive whiteboard surface allowing the direct manipulation of 3D virtual objects.[citation needed] Umgumbo is an immersive 3D VLE set in a Newtonian simulation of the solar system. Still in development Umgumbo will allow collaborative and interactive learning within personalized 3D spaces, including educational gaming and is delivered from a single external website.

[edit] List of some virtual learning environments

[edit] Learning management systems

[edit] Course management system

[edit] Virtual learning environment

  • Blackboard - a family of software
  • WebCT - (Now a part of Blackboard) software applications designed to enhance teaching and learning
  • FirstClass - messaging and communications solution
  • Desire2Learn - Desire2Learn eLearning solutions.
  • CyberExtension - Virtual Managed Learning Environment
  • It's Learning - Norweigan Closed Source System (written in ASP.NET)
  • Saba Centra - Closed Source System offered by Saba Software
  • WebTrain - Virtual live classes, enrollment, attendance, attention monitoring..
  • Glow Learn- A VLE accessible through and designed for Glow, the National School Intranet of Scotland
  • Frog - A VLE in the UK designed to help organise, communicate and to access information, designed by Frog Learning.

[edit] Other descriptions

  • Apex Learning - K-12 online course service and AP test study
  • ATutor - LCMS
  • Dokeos - elearning and course management web application
  • eCollege - comprehensive eLearning solution
  • PASS-PORT - a commercial ePortfolio and assessment system that includes a course management component

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ DCSF Making IT Personal leaflet, March 2006
  2. ^ eStrategy
  3. ^ e-portfolio
  4. ^

[edit] Further reading

  • Jenkins, M, T. Browne and R. Walker (2005). VLE Surveys: A longitudinal perspective between March 2001, March 2003 and March 2005 for higher education in the United Kingdom. UCISA. Retrieved August 8, 2007 from
  • Morgan, G. (2003). Faculty Use of Course Management Systems. 2, Retrieved November 27, 2005, from
  • Paulsen, M. F. 2003. Online Education and Learning Management Systems - Global Elearning in a Scandinavian Perspective. Oslo: NKI Forlaget.
  • Popat, K, MacLean, H, Heppell, S. (2007). Virtually There : Learning Platforms - YHGfL/Cleveratom ISBN 987-0-9556006-0-9
  • Weller, M. (2007). Virtual Learning Environments: Using, choosing and developing your VLE - London. Routledge.
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