Educational Technology Innovation and Impact/Virtual Learning Environments/Virtual Learning Environments

Phillip Simmons - New Educational Technologies

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

According to wikipedia [1], a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a software system designed to facilitate teachers in the management of educational courses for their students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration. The system can often track the learners’ progress, which can be monitored by both teachers and learners. While often thought of as primarily tools for distance education, they are most often used to supplement face-to-face classroom.

The systems usually run on servers, displaying the course to students as internet pages. Typically, the systems contain templates for content pages, discussion forums, chat, quizzes and exercises.

A VLE, which nearly all make extensive use of computers and the internet, should comprise all the following elements:

  • The syllabus for the course
  • Administrative information including the location of sessions
  • A notice board for up-to-date information
  • Student registration and tracking facilities
  • Basic teaching materials.

The principal functions needed from a comprehensive VLE include controlled access to curriculum that has been mapped to elements that can be separately assessed and recorded. Student activity and achievement should be able to be tracked against these elements using simple processes for course administration. This makes it possible for tutors to define and set up a course with accompanying materials and activities to direct, guide and monitor learner progress. There should be good communication between the learner, the tutor and other learning support specialists, providing direct support and feedback for learners, as well as peer group communications building a sense of group identity.

VLEs are becoming increasingly popular within Universities, thanks to the benefits offered. For instance, there are economies on the time of teaching staff, especially those involved in research and administration. VLEs ensure that quality control requirements are met by providing a standard vehicle for collecting the required information.

There are risks associated with the use of VLEs. As reported by The Learning Development Centre at Staffordshire University (, relying on VLEs can sometimes result in a failure to engage properly with the learner, to mistake “interactivity” for engagement and to focus on content rather than outcomes. Some adopt a view of learning as an information delivery process, where the learner is seen as operating individually “for themselves”. When this view is upheld in the context of VLEs, it can lead to a genuine sense of isolation, ignoring the social aspects of effective learning.

References: accessed 13 March 2006. accessed 13 March 2006.