The VLE vs. PLE debate

On Friday I did an unkeynote with Ricardo Torres Kompen at the PLE conference in Aveiro.  I must admit I was a little nervous as I have not done one before. I prepared a presentation but when I met with Ricardo I realised that the format was wrong, patient it was too much like a traditional one-way talk. We had asked people in advance on their thoughts on the following four questions:

  1. What is your personal digital learning environment and how do you use it?
  2. What are the main obstacles for building and maintaining a Personal Digital Learning Environment?
  3. How has your use of technologies changed in the last five years?
  4. What are your views on the PLE vs VLE debate? Is the VLE really dead?

We sent the call for responses out on twitter and fb and set up a cloud. We also directly asked for short videos from a number of people. The response was amazing! We got some fantastic videos and some great reflective answers in Cloudworks. So then we had the task of deciding which bits to include. Ricardo edited the videos to find short snippets to address each of the question and I chose relevant quotes from Cloudworks.

The format of the unkeynote was that we began by introducing the session and explaining what we had done in advance and the format for the talk. We then introduced two concepts.


The first concept is around the relationship between VLEs/PLEs and formal/informal learning. The diagram shows how different learning scenarios can be mapped against two dimensions (formal vs. informal learning and VLEs vs. PLEs). So a traditional accredited course delivered through a VLE sits on the botton right, check learners can augment that with study guides and materials provided by the institution in the VLE (bottom left). Many teachers also incorporate other tools, outwith the VLE (top right). Finally, something like a MOOC is located on the top left of the diagram. The second concept is that it is not just about the tools per se, but the learner interacting with the tools, through a particular pedagogical approach in a specific context.

We then showed a short video from Stephen Downes, where he described the difference between a VLE and a PLE. We then summarised the responses to the four questions in turn, showing some of the quotes in the background a couple of video clips. We got the audience to add their thoughts on each of the questions and concluded with a set of ten emergent themes:

  • The importance of curation and filtration.
  • The need for new digital literacy skills and the importance of understanding the online culture.
  • It takes time to appropriate these tools into your practice, need for learning by doing.
  • The need to keep up.
  • The importance of participation, social networks are two-way media
  • The need for structured, guided learning pathways; open/distributed learning environments not for everyone.
  • The rich range of tools for finding and managing information, and communicating and collaborating – each person adapts and personalises.
  • The balance between lose institutionally controlled systems vs. portable, learner-controlled tools.
  • It is about an ecosystem or ecology of people, resource and tools online.
  • There is a blurring of the boundaries between the VLE and the PLE.

We have got such a rich set of data and responses. We plan to summarise these, will blog these in due course.

8 Responses to “The VLE vs. PLE debate”

  1. Jeffrey Keefer Says:

    Now I even more wish I were there to engage in this!

  2. Gráinne Says:

    :-) thanks Jeffrey! Ricardo and I are planning on writing up a paper based on the great responses we got so watch this space!

  3. Mike Says:

    Questions: Depends the question of formal and informal learning on accreditation? 
    And are the MOOC’s from Coursera some sort of a PLE?
    I dont think so.

  4. Gráinne Says:

    I think MOOCs are PLEs - why do you think they are not Mike? I guess we need to distinguish between a PLE build around some form of learning and a Personal Digital Environment that an individual creates to support all aspects of their work online.

  5. Mike Says:

    Gráinne, from my point of view it’s necessary to make a differentiation between the Canadian and the US version of MOOC’s. When you look to Coursera or Udacity you find courses with a very traditional design running on a LMS. There is no personal learning enviroment.

  6. Gráinne Says:

    OK thanks for the clarification - I guess it really is all in the design and differnt MOOCs will have different structures and levels of support

  7. Jay Dempster Says:

    For another project (actually CPD provision for staff rather than student learning) I used the axis of Formal >> Informal and Structured >> Unstructured (the latter as a more generic preference than predefined VLE/PLE as some systems are a combination).

    I then created scenarios for what each of the quadrant ‘extremes’ might look like in terms of institutional policy, practice, etc (rather than just the ‘inner’ platform for delivery). From there you can consider against SWOT or other institutional parameters to benchmark operational context and/or ‘maturity’, assuming there is an ‘optimal’ positioning for current ‘good’ practice.

    I’ll email you the document in case it’s relevant, helpful to what you’re crowd sourcing against here. It was for the Business & Community Engagement programme, the CPD project -

  8. Gráinne Says:

    Sounds interesting Jay! Great minds think alike!

Leave a Reply