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Why it doesn’t actually matter if the VLE is dead, undead, or alive?

In the last 12 months there have been a few high profile debates and conference presentations on the VLE being dead, or being undead or being alive, and this will culminate in another debate on this topic in Wolverhampton on the 16th December 2009.

So what is my opinion on this debate? First we have to think about the history of the VLE. VLEs primary role in the early days was to allow a tutor to make learning materials available to learners via the internet without the tutor (or learner) having to know anything about html, dreamweaver, FTP etc. VLEs then quickly introduced other collaborative features to take them just beyond being used for file transfer, and in the early days they worked very well with some being very easy to use for tutors with low or average IT skills. What has happened in the last 10 years or so, is tutors IT skills (and confidence) have increased and learners expectations have increased, so some of the VLEs in circulation – although still easy to use, do not have the functionality that some tutors want, and the VLE rather than enabling learning is for some actually restricting learning.

If I returned to a college or university tomorrow as a lecturer, and they said ‘we don’t have a VLE to support your teaching’ then I would be quite happy supporting my learners using a combination of free web based tools, and I could probably do my job better than having a VLE imposed onto me. So does this mean that the VLE is dead, well no – I am not an average lecturer – so I could work in this way, most lecturers could not, and for them the VLE still has a place.

If I then put my strategic hat on, I have spent most of the last decade encouraging (often reluctant) people to engage in learning technology to enhance the learning experience, and the VLE has been a pivotal part of that process, so if I were to advocate that this pivotal tool of the last decade is now defunct this would send a negative message to the masses, and give them an easy get out clause to not engage in new technologies, so I don’t think that is a wise stance to take. What is more important, is to recognise that as tutors become significantly confident and skilled they may need additional tools (or freedom to use external ones) to allow them to move forwards outside of the restrictions of the VLE.

So to conclude:-

  • I think that the debate on this topic is and has been a healthy one, as the worst thing that people could do is to use a tool and not question its merit.
  • It doesn’t matter what personal conclusions one reaches – the VLE will still be here for years to come and it is strategically right that it is still here
  • Don’t tarnish all VLEs with the same brush – some are better than others.

(Note – I have composed this entry over the last 10 days or so on my phone when I have had a few minutes spare – and notice that my sentiments are very similar to that of James Clay in his blog posting of http://elearningstuff.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/don%E2%80%99t-kill-off-the-vle/ – even though our posts were created independantly of each other – great minds obvioulsy do think alike!)


7 Responses

  1. Ulp. Where does that leave me then? I’m of the opinion that VLEs are fundamentally flawed and will say so in so many words at Wolverhampton later this month. There must be a way forward through this morass, and I think that a hybrid set of solutions will be the future. Will discuss more and elaborate at the symposium. See you there I hope..?

    • I think Steve, that what you have done is start a very interesting debate, that has got the intention of many people, and has done the world of e-learning a whole lot of good (in that people may be questioning the functionality of their VLEs), and in a few years time people may look back and hail you a genius, but as is always the case genius is never realised in its own time.

      When I worked in FE – and the Government gave each college money to buy a VLE, I was very vocal in saying that this wasn’t the right thing to do – and was seen as a heretic by many at the time – as I wasn’t impressed with the range of commercial VLEs out there at the time, and I advocated giving the money back to the government (which didn’t sit well with many senior managers) – so I was in a similar situation then to you now.

  2. A genius you say? LOL – A genie maybe – and I’m out of the bottle! I’m glad that the debate is still continuing and that many people are engaged in examining their own practices and contexts around VLEs. I wil continue taking the antagonistic stance and attracting the bullets, because it’s fun – because I can – and because I have always like to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ to try to get people thinking critically, rather than simply accepting what is in front of them. I hope a lot of people make the trip to Wolverhampton on 16th to lock horns (enough of the metaphors! – Ed) and engage in this continuing, vital debate. 🙂

  3. The more I read on this subject the more I am coming to the conclusion that the VLE may not be ‘dead’, but it certainly must evolve in order to stay alive.

    What was once cutting-edge and dynamic (if not unique) must evolve with the rest of the breed of new Internet systems in order to keep up with the crowd .. but we don’t want this, we want to be ahead of the crowd and have the ability to direct where we want the ‘VLE’ (or whatever it will be called) according to our needs.

    Again, it may not be dead but it’s future isn’t looking rosy.

    Thanks again for the debate.


  4. I don’t think we should blame the humble VLE after all it is only a tool. It can be used effectively or ineffectively, much is down to how an individual chooses to use it (network & technical issues aside). It may have limited scope and can now be substantially enhanced by add-ons but it precedes many such facilities and it has been playing, as you so rightly say Dave, a “pivotal” role in developing distance learning for many years. In numerous cases it has played its role well, I agree with the philosophy, don’t tar all VLE’s with the same brush. Taking it as read that the VLE will continue regardless for some time to come the big question, in my opinion, is still what is next? Can we do better in the future knowing what we know and using the new tools developing out there as we speak? Back to you Dave and Steve.

  5. Hear hear or the post. Pretty much my view I’ll be pontificating on at #vleundead on 16th with Steve again 🙂

    I also agree the VLE needs work – not as life support but more like a good gardener tending a garden. However well planned and planted initially, it’ll wither and die/get over grown with weeds if not pruned and tended well. I don’t see that being the begining of the end, to use a cliche, I think we’re seeing the end of the beginning 🙂

  6. wait till your institution has some cloud based service, you all will be running for the Cloud Learning Environment 🙂 Its so much better and most importantly students like the use of it and the control they get on it.

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