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!)