The Post VLE Era

There is a lot of talk about VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) around on Twitter and the Web at the moment. What is all the fuss about?

Just a quick article to put down my thoughts about VLEs which are difficult in tweets.

I love innovation, new ideas, new learning, new technology and the harnessing of all three together. I have led IT strategy, learning and infrastructure for 15 years and have introduced my share of technology into education over the years. However, I never introduce anything just because it has been invented, and certainly not simply because everyone else seems to think that it is a good idea. So for many, many years now I have heard educators excitedly talking about their VLE, often desperate to show it off to anyone who will listen. I have had a look at them all over time, and do you know what, I never found one that I thought significantly added a great deal to the learning process. Yes, there are a few bells and whistles that are fun, and many will say that they don't know how you could do without theirs. The LA had a go to introduce an authority wide VLE, but heads who already had their own VLE certainly didn't fancy that, so that idea withered and died. The Government even chipped in by telling us all that we must have one. Well, sorry, but I never introduced one.

What is a VLE? At its simplest it is a collection of shared resources which the community creates, shares and uses. Some confuse it by including their Management Information System into the VLE, but this does seem to me to be an indication that you don't quite value the Learning part between the VE and that perhaps you need a new MIS or to fully use the one you have. Combining VLE and MIS seems to me to be the best recipe for confusion and lack of clarity and hence, Learning. I once heard someone say proudly that their VLE was their; Website, MIS, EMail System and their Network. They were very clearly selling that this was their VLE. I didn't particularly query this, but loved the analogy and converted it into my version, namely; We don't need a VLE because we have all of those things together with a Network Drive that could be accessed 24/7 from home, multiple shared resource drives, etc. I don't think our students, or staff were disadvantaged in any way.

Over the last few years, things have moved on significantly; Google documents, drives, Apps, etc., Dropbox and all equivalent copies, new collaborative Web developments which are changing every month if not more rapidly. Fixed computers are rapidly becoming a less turned to device and we are already in the desktop decline curve which is becoming negatively exponential. Soon, mobile devices will be THE way that we collaborate and learn. iTunes U in the Apple ecosystem is by far the most exciting currently, and the power and ease with which modern learning resources can be created and shared is becoming mind-blowing, particularly if you don't keep up for a few weeks or months.

Thank you to
@Syded06 @HuntingEnglish @MLovatt1 and @TheICTAdvisor for the debate we had on Twitter yesterday, since it was that which made me write this article.

We are in the post VLE era.

You probably arrived at this article through Twitter. To highlight the difference between VLEs and the now available alternative possibilities, imagine VLEs to be prior to social networking, with the post VLE era being with social networking. How do you learn these days, is everything on your school network or VLE? Wouldn't Twitter be great if we were all cut off from each other and could only talk to those in our own community? No, it wouldn't would it, even though those with a VLE do make it work, and well done to you for trying.

What to do? If you already have a VLE, and it is working for your community, great, keep it, use it. However, you need to start thinking about your exit strategy because having all of those resources tied up in a closed insular system just isn't going to cut it tomorrow. If anyone is thinking of having a new VLE, STOP.

I have heard the argument used, that iPads aren't any good because you can't access the VLE. I despair at this. At its most polite, this is a misunderstanding, wood for trees. At worst, it is someone who has missed that the world is changing and who doesn't seem to have grasped that collaboration and sharing of students and teachers across the wider world is perhaps a little more useful than from simply within one establishment, or a few combined. Where are you more likely to find a good resource or alternative learning to add to and develop your own learning, in your school, or from anyone and everyone across the UK and globe?

What to do? Your students and staff need to be free to learn together, independently, collectively, directed and free. You are only going to do this by placing a mobile device into the hands of the learners. This will be useless unless you have a robust backbone Network and super WiFi with full site density coverage. So if you are worrying that your VLE may be becoming obsolete and you haven't yet got mobile devices sorted, pause. You need to keep your VLE going for now, but focus your efforts onto the mobile device and infrastructure. When you have the right tool (currently an iPad, but this may change) in the hands of the learners and the learning facilitators, then come back to the debate about whether you are going iTunes U, WebDav WiKi Servers, or whatever is by then the best way.

Good Luck and please let's stop the VLE debate, it's history.

If anyone wants to know more, wants clarification, or would like me to help them, please do contact me through this website and I will be only too happy to.