That VLE vs. loosely couple thing…

Now I don’t want to stir, but I can’t resist it ;-) I was just quietly reading the final proofs for a paper accepted for the ReCALL journal associated with a keynote I did at Eurocall this year when the following paragraph caught my attention…

Only one person on the survey mentioned a VLE as one of the four technologies they like to use most, and ten listed a VLE as a dislike. Critical factors appear to be whether the VLE is well designed and structured, how relevant the information on the VLE is to the students’ needs and the degree to which it is really embedded into the culture of the course.  The findings hint that students are beginning to move beyond VLEs as a central resource and that they use the VLE only when it meets specific, individual needs. Many students did say that they used their VLE to check for course-related information and in some cases the VLE was used as a course calendar or for communicating course administration. A fundamental issue is how students integrate use of the institutional VLE with their own personally acquired technologies. The ECAR survey found “student respondents to be immersed with technology ownership  and use, and impatient with instructors who don’t have adequate technical skills” (ECAR, 2007: 5).                                        

Now there are a number of caveats straight off.

  1. For VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) read LMS, CMS etc. etc…. the point is semi-structured software environments to support learning.
  2. This research was essentially prior to the major take off of web 2.0
  3. Use is not simple and is very contextual; how well VLE tools are used depends very much on how well they are designed and integrated into the course, and most importantly how relevant they are perceived to be by students
  4. There were lots of positives in the data about VLEs - students on work placement in hospitals valuing the calendar facility as a means of keeping in touch for example.
  5. A lot of teachers value the safe, constructed space of a VLE as a means of getting to grips with all these new technologies, Angela MacFarlane once referred to VLEs with a skiing metaphor - a ‘nursery slope’ for teachers to engage with and experiment in. 

Nonetheless I do think the recent debate needs to continue.We have some fundamental issues facing us. The reality is freely available (and often very good) tools for learning are available and students will make use of them, BUT the arguments about the value of VLEs as a consistent institutional interface - about the ability to monitor and track via systems that are under institutional control - also need to be taken into account. As usual I sit on the fence of the fascinating recent debate between BrianMartinNiall and Tony (note alphabetical order! I ain’t taking no sides on this one!!!).  Now some of you reading this blog will have sussed me out… as a closet chemist.. with an obsession for representing things as “octahedrons’, “tetrahedrons”, etc. So here’s my take on the vle vs. loosely couple thing, surprise, surprise as an octahedron!!! :-)

3 Responses to “That VLE vs. loosely couple thing…”

  1. George Siemens Says:

    Hi Grainne, we - at University of Manitoba - are currently in the middle of an LMS review (now running into its second year). To date, we’ve had the joy of reviewing D2L, WebCT, Angel, and informally, Moodle. The current distinction between LMS/VLE vs. Web 2.0 is fading quickly. All major LMS providers are moving rapidly to include participative tools. Blackboard has gone so far as to create a social bookmarking service (scholar). Several years ago, I was happily in the camp of “VLEs are dead” (see Learning or Management Systemes:
    and LMS: The wrong place to start elearning: ) …now I’m not so sure anymore. While I love the concept of PLEs, the challenge on uptake is high (due to the use of many different tools). An integrated suite - which is what webct initially provided for schools - appeals to administrators and educators who are beginning to teach online. Essentially, VLEs will have to become more like PLEs, or PLEs more like VLEs in order to increase organizational adoption.


  2. Gráinne Says:

    Hi George

    Good point - I think the boundaries are totally blurring on all of these things and it is about combining the best in affordances possible through multiple tools with consideration of the range of users and the differing levels of their abilities.


  3. Brian Kelly Says:

    I think Goerge is right - it’s not (or shouldn’t be) about entrenched positions (”once a VLEer always a VLEer”) but about having the dialogue. And were’re already seeing Web 2.0 features which initially dismissed by some (blogs for egotists, Ajax as presentational fluff, …) now becoming embedded in enterprise systems. It’s not the positions argued by the two camps which is the important aspect, but the debate that is happening.

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