When a virtual learning environment actually does what it says on the tin!


There are many different VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) platforms used throughout the world and I become increasingly frustrated when we talk about online learning within these contexts, when the platforms are used mostly for storing presentations and lecture notes. Why not just use a cloud storage system or other network-enabled file store instead?

I wonder how many global VLEs actually do what they say on the tin? What’s the difference between a VLE and a VSE (Virtual Storage Environment)? To be honest, there is little difference as they are one and the same thing, but the advent of MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) raises interesting questions. The subtle, but effective variation is based upon three principles:

  1. The content of a VLE must be designed to engage the learner in an autonomous, interactive and interpretive manner;
  2. Instructional (online) technology must be applied within a constructivist environment (although some nodes of online learning may be integrated rather than implied e.g. connectivist theory);
  3. Constructive alignment between purpose, outcomes and assessment must be core to the learning experience.

I am currently undertaking a project which explores the technical constructs used to express pedagogical content, architecture and design within a blended learning course. Crucially, it will seek to look towards the future affordances of online technologies and the processes of creating digital media within VLEs. We already know that a significant number of students engage with portable and online technology (Gardiner, 2010) and that the use of social media can provide opportunities to increase engagement with learning content (Dunn, 2013).

Recognising that teaching staff have a pivotal role in providing valuable learning experiences, we must look to provide sustainable methods which can be used to integrate Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) into their teaching practice. I also recognise that the technology itself is not a game changer, but rather the agency between the teacher and the student. This must be maintained within any VLE if it is to be successful.

This is the source of my frustration – technology cannot replace good teaching, but rather it can create valuable learning experiences.

What are your worst and best experiences of MOOCS and VLEs? If you were to compare this to your prior experiences a school pupil and I asked you to tell me the worst and best experiences of learning – I suspect that there would be many similarities.


Dunn, L. (2013) Using social media to enhance learning and teaching. In: Social Media 2013: 18th International Conference on Education and Technology, 1-3 Aug 2013, Hong Kong, China.

Gardiner, K. (2010) First Year Student Use of Technology and Their Expectations of Technology Use in their Courses. The University of Glasgow.