The future of VLEs

Mini Project 5  of Assignment 1 (MMEL)

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) were introduced into the further education sector in the UK in early 21st century, as a means of enhancing learning using information learning technology (FEFC, 1999). However, it has since been argued that many institutions do not use VLEs effectively.  Furthermore, it has been suggested that there are more effective e-learning models, such as personal learning environments (PLEs), where the learner can utilise, manage and control a wide range of Web 2.0 tools to support their learning (Stiles, 2007).

The debate was discussed at the 2009 International Conference of the Association for Learning Technology. Steve Wheeler and Graham Atwell claimed that VLEs were driven by an institutional need to manage learning and not as a method of promoting e-learning. Moreover, a 2009 survey conducted by Ofsted found that whilst most learners were happy to use the VLE for learning reasons, they were not inclined to use forums and messaging for general social use, which could suggest that even those learners who are confident with technologies still see the VLE as being a specific learning tool (Ofsted, 2009)

However, as James Clay argued, many learners, and indeed educators, are cautious in their approach to e-learning and, in fact, prefer a safe framework through which they can learn to access learning technologies (Clay, 2009).  In addition, the Ofsted survey found that the impact of VLEs provided several benefits to learners, including: improved motivation; links to improved retention; and allowing pacing of learning.

Clearly then, the VLE still has a place to play in offering e-learning opportunities. However, it is important that they are used effectively by educators and learners, and not just a means of satisfying managerial control. Sigala (2002 in JISC, 2006) describes the didactic approach of simply uploading classroom material on to the VLE as the first stage in the use of e-learning, with limited benefit to learners. The JISC infokit on effective use of VLEs (JISC, 2006) suggests that for best practice pedagogical models should be considered, such as the Mayes Conceptualisation Cycle.    This model suggests three levels of learning.  Firstly, primary courseware such as lecture material is made available for learners to download.  Secondly, learners are assessed on their understanding of the material by way of online tests, or by feedback during a discussion forum.  The final, tertiary stage, Mayes argues, is the level at which high level learning takes place, and includes two-way dialogue.  This could take place, for example, by learners presenting their own work on-line, with ideas discussed with peers and tutor through the VLEs discussion board.

In conclusion, it could be argued that VLEs do have an important place in education.  However, to be effective, they should not be used as online replications of traditional teaching methods.  Rather, as Biggs (1999, in JISC, 2006) suggests, effective learning takes place when teaching and learning activities are specifically selected which encourage cognitive learning processes, and engage and encourage learners to attain the intended learning outcomes.

Related articles


Clay, J. (2009). The VLE is dead . [Online Video]. 09 September. Available from: [Accessed: 20 Novmber 2011].

FEFC, The Further Education Funding Council (1999), ITL Implementation Plan (Circular 99/45), Coventry, FEFC

JISC Infokit (2006), Effective Use of VLEs: Introduction to VLEs [online] Available at:  Accessed 20th November 2011

Ofsted (2009), Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings, London, Ofsted

Stiles, M. (2007). Death of the VLE?: A challenge to a new orthodoxy. Serials: The Journal for the Serials Community,20(1), 31-36


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