There is no such thing as ‘virtual learning’

This morning a respected twitter colleague Craig Taylor, tweeted that he felt the need to write a blog post on this topic – which being something that I agree with passionately thought I would do the same, so we can then compare posts.

Since people have used computers, the term virtual is often used to identify something that isn’t physically touchable. e.g. Email is an example of virtual mail, in that you cannot physically touch it the same way that you can with a letter dropping through the letterbox of your front door.

Cerebral lobes

We then have the term VLE or Virtual Learning Environment, which some people misread as being an environment where ‘virtual learning’ takes place, and the term ‘virtual learning’ then gets misused by some to define learning supported by technology. The problem is there is no such thing as virtual learning. Learning is a complex mechanism that takes places in the brain and is a process of connections being made between neurons in a way that connects prior knowledge (from memory) to new information to create new knowledge and understanding (apologies to any psychologists or similar for the gross over simplification here), so learning is learning – it doesn’t matter how or where that learning takes place; whether it is in a classroom, a workplace, in front of a computer, watching TV or reading a book – learning is learning.

Some people think that when we learn via online technologies (e.g. via a VLE) the learning process is different – the actual mechanism of learning (the formation of connections between neurons) is exactly the same – what changes is the environment in which this takes place and the mediums used to help the learning to take place.

So going back to the idea of a VLE – I mentioned earlier that it is not an environment in which Virtual learning takes place, instead it is a virtual environment (e.g. you cannot touch the walls, seats, tables) in which learning takes places. Maybe the acronym would have been better if it was a Virtual Environment for Learning or VEL – but VLE seems to have established, and personally I am not too bothered about the semantics of whether it should be a VLE, MLE, LMS, CMS etc. what I am interested in, is that people use these tools effectively and efficiently to enhance the business that we are in, and that is as facilitators of the process of learning.

One Response

  1. Spot on David and Craig. I have no doubt that lots of people believe this new virtual thingy is a silver bullet. No need to worry about the Learning process because ‘it’ will do it for you – fat chance.

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