To VLE or not to VLE?

There has been a growth in the number of Virtual Learning Environment packages in recent years. Fueled perhaps by the marketing hype, teachers are under pressure to move their learning online. many teachers are working hard to learn and implement a VLE to deliver their course online.

In a subversive moment I decided to ask why?

I have used a VLE to great effect, so I am a believer in the technology, but like many good things there is the risk that it is overused. With that in mind I decided to take a step back and ask when and how a VLE should be used.

Broadly speaking I see three levels of technology integration into teaching practice, roughly connected to the SAMR model.

  1. Classroom teaching is unchanged but online resources are provided to support students. So the teacher might provide some extra resources like Khan Academy links for the students. This corresponds to Substitution and Augmentation, or the enhancement level in the SAMR model. I would include a flipped classroom in this section as it is really just an augmentation of traditional teaching.
  2. Students are provided with a classroom blended learning environment where they use online resources and activities integrated into the classroom learning. In this situation the underlying pedagogy is quite traditional but the students also work online to complete activities and assessments. This corresponds to the Modification stage in the SAMR model, where the technology has significantly modified teaching and learning, but the learning design is fundamentally the same.
  3. The final approach is where technology is factored into the learning design stage. This is quite difficult to do but I have attempted this approach in a previous post. This would correspond to the final Redefinition stage in the SAMR model, where the students are engaged in learning that would not be possible without the technology. By this I don’t mean a single online activity like a Kahoot quiz, but a  course that integrates technology at the learning design stage and probably would not be possible without Edtech.

Now looking at these three scenarios it is obvious that most classroom use of technology falls into the first scenario. Most teachers are using technology to support isolated activities, or to provide students with remedial support. That is not a bad thing, and I make no criticism of what they are doing. My suggestion, however, is that teachers don’t require a VLE for that level of technology integration. A VLE is a complex package and learning to work comfortably in the VLE environment can be a significant hurdle to teachers wishing to use technology in their classroom. By setting that consideration aside many teachers will feel more comfortable and confident to try using technology.

So if there is no VLE what can teachers use?

  1. The simplest solution is to use Dropbox or Google Drive. Free cloud services like those are extremely simple to use and resources can be organized in folders for students to access.
  2. The next level up is to use a blog site such as WordPress. This can start as simple blog posts with work for students and with time it can grow to become a relatively sophisticated virtual classroom environment. Teachers can add features as their confidence grows. I have been using this method for some years now and an example can be found at
  3. To my way of thinking the Rolls Royce of simple solutions is Mosaic LiveTiles. This is provided free to schools with  a SharePoint/Office365 environment and while the infrastructure requires some expertise to establish, the package is extremely simple drag and drop technology for classroom teachers wanting to provide resources to support their students with an attractive interface.

So in summary teachers wishing to support their class with online content don’t need to implement a VLE. It is much quicker and easier to use other sharing technologies.


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