Are the Days of a Traditional VLE Numbered?

James Kieft from Activate Learning shares some key insights on the feasibility of Virtual Learning Environment’s in Further Education.

Last month I attended two events one hosted by Google the other by Microsoft, one of the common discussion points was whether colleagues felt there was still a need to make use of a virtual learning environment, in the mould of Moodle, Blackboard and Canvas. So, for this blog post I thought I would reflect on my experiences with using them and see if I can answer the question ‘Are the days of the traditional VLE numbered?’

Using VLE’s in Further Education

Both technology companies have entered the education space Google with Classroom and Microsoft more recently with Teams and with each update and iteration their products become more fully featured.

During my time in further education I've experienced using the following as a VLE, a College created intranet, Blackboard, Moodle and more recently Canvas. I also have experience of using Google Classroom and Microsoft teams.

In order to answer the question, ‘Are the days of the traditional VLE numbered?’ we need to think about how they are being used. From my perspective I see them being used in the following way;-

  • The curation of resources for the students to access outside of the lesson.
  • Management of assessment hand ins, checking of plagiarism and the providing of feedback.
  • A space to share content and activities to support flipped learning.
  • Safe space to enable those learning conversations to continue beyond the classroom via a discussion forum.

Do Institutions Really Need a VLE?

When it comes to the creation and sharing of content, with cloud storage solutions, such as Microsoft Office 365’s Onedrive and Google drive, work is made easier than ever for teachers who are able to create and share resources directly with the learners, without the need of hosting it on a VLE. But that is not the case for other types of content such as SCORM content, which benefit from being published via VLE, as it is not so easy to publish via a normal website.

Looking at the management of assignments and the provision of feedback, both Google Classroom and the assignment feature within Microsoft teams, makes it very easy to create and share assignments with students and provide them with feedback. It is also worth noting that Microsoft teams is due to integrate Turnitin within their assessment feature so there will less barriers in way of moving away from the traditional VLE’s.

Moving on to the provision of a space to share content and activities to support flipped learning, with so many tools available within browser that enable you to create activities to engage learners and check their understanding. I think it is another aspect that points towards not needing a traditional VLE.

Looking to the final point, we need to consider a safe space to enable those learning conversations to continue beyond the classroom. This may be via both the traditional VLE and the offerings from Google and Microsoft which allow students to contribute links, images and text to discussions. The big difference is the ease in which they can do this. In my opinion, the offerings from Google and Microsoft win out, and the fact they are supported by mobile apps making it as easy to contribute whilst on the move, so yet another negative against the traditional VLE.

If we add to this the importance of supporting the development of students digital skills such Creation, Curation, Communication and Collaboration, it would seem the case is quite damning against the traditional VLE.

What Do VLE’s Have to Offer Then?

However, we need to consider the other positive elements we have not mentioned, when looking to the traditional VLE. These include the usage data it can provide, SCORM integration mentioned earlier, ease of provisioning course via student records, and the option to monetised courses.

So in conclusion it really depends what your priorities are as an organisation, if you use a lots of SCORM content and are interested in monetising your course there is still a place for the traditional VLE, however it comes with a large price tag.

What Can We Expect Moving Forward?

Looking at how far Google and Microsoft have come with their products and their aggressive rate of development; I can only see it getting tougher for the traditional VLEs. Certainly, if I was looking for a solution now, I would have thought very carefully if I could justify the expense of a traditional VLE. Finally, for me a key consideration would be identifying which solution could provide students with the best opportunity to develop their digital skills, which will be so important as they progress onto employment. We need plenty of opportunities to utilise those tools for creation, curation, communication and collaboration whilst they're studying.

I am sure there are positive and negative elements on both sides of the argument I have missed.

For those considering moving away from a traditional VLE, we did just that four years ago when we switched off our Moodle, having analysed how it was being used and determining there were more effective ways to engage our learners. Staff were encouraged instead to make use of Google Plus communities for discussion and debate and Google sites as way of organising resources in conjunction with Google Drive.

The process was met with less resistance than I thought it would be, staff liked the autonomy of being able to identify the best tools to suit their students needs. Today my institution makes use of traditional VLE, with the college having merged with several other colleges which were using traditional VLE’s it was thought best to go down that route, as SCORM objects could not be published easily.

This article was written by James Kieft, Group Learning and Development Manager at Activate Learning