Category Archives: OLEs, VLEs, LMSs

Making effective use of VLEs

I’ve been enjoying hosting a hotseat within a Master’s programme at Middlesex University in the UK – one of three I am doing for them. It’s something I can at least do from home while the earthquake has limited my access to my work environment.

The topic for the current hotseat is “making effective use of VLEs” (substitute LMS for VLE and it’s pretty much the same thing). There are an increasing number of UK schools making use of a VLE to support teaching and learning activities, and I was invited to facilitate some discussion in this course about what makes for effective use of a VLE – beyond simply using it at a place to share content and resources.

What follows is a excerpt from the material I put up for discussion – I can’t share the actual discussion that has ensued, but I can say it has stirred up considerable online discussion, with examples provided of VLE use at all levels from early years to senior secondary. Of particular interest to me in all of the responses is the assumption that the use of a VLE/LMS is not or can not be as good as a face-to-face experience.


Some basic questions we need to think about when considering how we can make effective use of VLEs are:

  • What is a VLE and how can it be used?
  • What are the potential benefits and pitfalls of using a VLE?
  • is there a particular pedagogical approach that is necessary to make effective use of a VLE?

In the past 10 years we have seen a rapid adoption of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in higher education and in the schooling sector. Both teachers and the institutions they work in are increasingly turning to VLEs in order to optimize the time spent teaching and provide a service for students who use the Internet as the main tool for finding information and resources. The term Learning Platform or VLE describes a broad range of ICT systems used to deliver and support learning. At the heart of any learning platform is the concept of a personalized online learning space for the student. This space should offer teachers and learners access to stored work, e-learning resources, opportunities for communication and facility to track progress. However up till now there has not been a strong track record in integrating VLEs effectively into teaching and learning programmes.

According to a JISC’s Introduction to managed learning environments, the term ‘virtual learning environment’ refers to the components in which learners and tutors participate in online interactions of various kinds, including online learning. Thus, a virtual learning environment can be any electronic space where learning can take place or where interactions occur.

The term VLE has been used synonymously with a Learning Management System (LMS), a software
application for the administration, documentation, tracking, and reporting of training programs, classroom and online events, e-learning programs, and training content. The Wikipedia entry of the history of the VLE shows how the evolution of a VLE includes LMS development.

Despite the reasonably large scale uptake, the perceived benefits of a VLE have not yet been widely realised – as confirmed by an OFSTED report published two years ago. In that report Christine Gilbert, chief inspector, said some schools and colleges were using VLEs as “dumping grounds or storage places for rarely-used files, rather than for material that enhanced the face-to-face learning
done inside the classroom

Where effective use of VLEs were observed the reviewers reported:

“The best VLEs depended on an enthusiastic teacher, trainer or manager to develop materials and encourage their use amongst learners and staff. A good grasp of information technology was not critical to a good VLE; they flourished where skilled and confident teachers and tutors treated the VLE as an extension of their normal work.”

So what are the conditions required for effective use of VLEs?

In my experience from working with schools in the UK and in NZ  I see many instances where a VLE/LMS (like many other technologies) has been introduced, training given on the essentials of how to upload material onto it, then it has been left to languish through lack of use (or abuse).

On the other hand there are, of course, examples of where excellent use has been made of a VLE/LMS, where it has become a part of the learning hub of the school, acting as the clearing house for course content, participation in projects, communication with parents etc.

So what makes the difference? There are two key considerations in my view. The first lies not in the choice of the technology for a VLE, but in the underlying understandings and applications of pedagogical thinking.

1 – The Pedagogical Imperative

We can (and have) spend countless hours debating the merits of various VLE platforms, but in the end it comes down to how they are used, rather than what use can potentially be made of them. Certainly, once one  becomes more familiar with what can be done in an online environment one’s expectations are raised, and so one becomes more discriminating in terms of the particular platform, although that in itself is then problematic because you quickly realise that there is on single ‘ideal’ platform.

In the US, like the UK and other places, a VLE is a central platform for the developments occurring in blended-learning environments, in which students learn online in an adult-supervised environment at least part of the time. A recent report on the rise of blended learning in K-12 schools in the US focuses on this issue:

The growth of online learning in brick-and-mortar
schools carries with it a bigger opportunity that has not existed in the past with education technology, which has been treated as an add-on to the current education system and conventional classroom structure.
Online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost.

Policymakers and education leaders must adopt the right policies for this to happen. There is a significant risk that the existing education system will co-opt online learning as it blends it into its current flawed model—and, just as is the case now, too few students will receive an excellent education.

Here’s the challenge – how do we ensure that we aren’t simply adopting the use of a VLE to enable our online learning, blending it into a currently flawed model. By flawed model, I include some of the pedagogical practices that exist in our face to face classrooms. For example, a lot of what occurs in our schools remains a hangover from the “transfer of knowledge” days, where the emphasis was on the ‘delivery’ of content, rather than active engagement with it.

This is where things can go awry. VLEs had their origins as vessels for content storage and delivery. This is what suited the mostly university level users at the time. Since then we have come a long way in terms of what the technology itself can provide, but still we fail to fully leverage this in the way we use it.

In essence, our teaching and learning in a VLE environment has to be active. Passive learning is an oxymoron anyway! A quick browse through the US report referenced above reveals some specific references to the sorts of things that can make learning in a VLE (or blended environment) more participatory, more active, and more engaging for students.

2 – The Online Lives of Students

The second consideration here is to ask ourselves, “is a VLE still the best way to go?” Is it still appropriate for learners who are increasingly living their lives online, creating their own ‘personal learning environments’ (PLEs), with places to store files, communicate with friends, build collections of photos or music, maintain blogs and journals etc. Can it be relevant?

A few years ago I did some work (with Sandy Britain) for the NZ Ministry of Education on the development of a set of guidelines for schools on what the MoE then was calling an “Online Learning Environment”, or OLE. (Substitute VLE for OLE and you’ll get the picture). In this document I have attempted to outline the changing nature of a learner’s experience in the online environment (their Personal Learning Environment or PLE), and contrast that with the more formal, institution-controlled approach of a VLE.

I also created a table that illustrates some of the key shifts in the form of a continuum, identifying the various areas that we need to be considering in our efforts to effectively engage with students online.

Although these documents were written a while ago, and for a different context, the essential thinking has not changed – indeed, I believe we are seeing more of what was predicted in these documents becoming a reality right now.

Background Readings

The following readings may provide some background to our discussion:

  • The Rise of Blended Learning – blog post commenting on a recent US-based report on the impact of blended learning in K-12 schools in the US.
  • OLE-PLE relationship (pdf download) – a document I prepared some years ago to inform some policy work that was in its early stages of development in New Zealand. (If you substitute OLE for VLE when you read it you’ll understand).
  • Expanding pedagogical scope – a chart I created around the same time to help illustrate some of the shifts that are occurring in our system.
  • Designing an Online Environment for Learning – a blog post of mine from 2010 (again, substitute VLE for LMS in this case) – note also the nature of the responses to this post.

Some questions

So – there are two key issues to be considered when thinking about how to make effective use of a VLE/LMS:

  1. The pedagogical practices and approaches that will lead to the effective use of VLEs (and what to avoid)
  2. The growing dilemma of an institution-based VLE as an outmoded concept in an increasingly learner-driven online world.

Some questions that could be useful to prompt discussion in staff rooms and PD sessions to promote discourse about these issues might be:

  • what examples of effective use of a VLE/LMS have you seen or experienced?
  • how does this illustrate an active learning approach?
  • what references or resources can you point us to that would help others in creating a more collaborative and participatory experience for learners within a VLE?
  • are VLEs outdated? If not, why not? If so, what will replace them – if anything? What are the alternatives?
  • what other shifts ought we be concerned about that might impact on the effective use of VLEs?

2009 Horizon Report

Horizon09_NZOZ The 2009 Horizon Report (NZ and Australian edition) was released today at the National Broadband Network Symposium at Griffith University.

Again this year I’ve had the privilege of contributing to the development of this report – and again, I feel the value for me has been in the rigor of the thinking and exchanges that took place in deciding what things should be included and what should be left out (and why etc).

This year’s report has the usual list of technologies to watch out for, and the possible impact on education – plus it has some interesting sections on future trends and critical challenges.

The technologies to watch as decided by this year’s panel of contributors are:

One year or less to adoption

  • Mobile internet devices
  • private clouds

Two to three years

  • Open content
  • Virtual, augmented and alternate realities

Four to five years

  • Location-based learning
  • Smart objects and devices

This year’s report provides some excellent background on each of these technologies, and has a list of examples (with links) for you to go and explore further if there are things there you’re not familiar with, or if you simply want to learn more.

The rigor of the debate about what to include and what to leave out inevitably led to a lot of discussion around the complexity of inter-related issues and concerns that come to play with the adoption of technology and trying to anticipate its impact on learning. In this year’s report I’m particularly interested in the summary of the ‘critical challenges’ that emerged from the group’s work – as I believe these are (or should be) of more interest to the future planners in our education system, school leaders etc, than simply trying to second-guess what technologies will emerge.

Here are the challenges that are identified:

  1. Practices for evaluating student work will evolve in response to the changing nature of learning and student preferences for receiving feedback.
  2. Ageing learning environments do not easily allow for embracing the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), or enable the sorts of learning support systems being promoted by modern theorists.
  3. There is a growing need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy.
  4. There is a growing recognition that new technologies must be adopted and used as an everyday part of classroom activities, but effecting this change is difficult.

These issues are expanded on in brief in the report – and are worth exploring further in staffrooms and professional development meetings as we prepare to enter the second decade of the 21st century!

Download PDF of the report here

Measuring the right things

I’ve just read a fascinating publication from Microsoft titled “Interoperability: Improving Education” which came about as a result of 10 or so educators and ICT practitioners who were brought together by Microsoft for a meeting running alongside the annual NAACE conference held in Blackpool, England, earlier this year. The brief was to talk about the way that schools use pupil data. And the wisdoms that ensued are contained in an new Microsoft discussion document for school leaders and local authorities, “Interoperability: Improving schools” (download the PDF here).

The contents of this paper provide timely insights for NZ educators because it nicely ties together two pieces of work that are currently the focus of the Ministry of Education. First are the discussions about standardised testing, and the measurement of student progress and achievement, and second are the issues of interoperability as they relate to work being done around data interoperbility between LMSs and SMSs in schools, and the whole area of e-portfolios.

From its title, and the fact that it’s published by a technology company, you could be forgiven for thinking that the document is about a technology solution that will end all our woes. This is not the case. Instead, the document contains a summary of thoughts in response to questions such as:

  • are we collecting the right data?
  • what data should we be collecting?
  • who needs, or wishes to see the data?
  • can we easily move data to where it’s wanted or needed?

The context for the discussion is identified in this excerpt from the introduction:

The last five years has been dominated by discussions about common file formats, and competing systems which support data interchange standards. The International Standards community, through its work on file standards, has helped us reach a situation where students and teachers can easily share assignments, examination submissions and documents.

The same cannot be said for simple data interchange – for example, the simple requirement to automate the process of keeping a list of users up to date within a learning platform without a manual intervention. And those solutions which do exist for this appear to need customisation for each data relationship – between different learning platforms for example.

I believe that we are collecting the data within our educational systems that we need to deliver
improvement, but only those data items that are being seen as “part of the system”. We collect a core of formal learning data in our schools Management Information Systems, and through other systems we collect further datapoints – often disconnected from the core learning data – on health, achievement and engagement.

In the 21st Century, we are seeing a huge growth in learning and engagement outside of the formal education system. As we continue to build extensive connected learning communities, we need to find ways to see the holistic story of a truly connected learner, including their learning in school, in the community and individually. We need to move from a top-down data culture (ie we measure what the managers above us want measured) to an individually driven data culture, where the individual has more input to the data that tells their individual story, and where their past learning journey is used to support their future learning journey.

To achieve this we need to think outside of the strict confines of top-down, organisational data collection. We need to ask questions from a different perspective “How can students self-asses their skills and use that to improve their learning?” and “If we asked a student to tell us how they are doing at school, what data would they share with us?”

I am currently enjoying being a part of separate discussions (online and offline) around each of the issues identified above – but perhaps there’s good cause to reflect here and think about how timely it might be to work like this think tank, and engage in some robust discussions that actually  link both parts of the equation?

Perhaps it would allow us to reach similar conclusions as the English did as a basis for moving forward:

The answer, as it emerged in discussion, is that there‟s arguably too much emphasis on one kind of data. The current pattern of top-down accountability, it‟s suggested creates an emphasis on classroom attainment at the expense of skills and competencies. Or, as Sir Mark Grundy puts it,  “We’re measuring the wrong things.”

8 ways cloud computing may change schools

Over the weekend I struggled with making my votes for this year’s Horizon Report (NZ/Australia version) – partly because I wanted to vote for more than I was entitled to, and partly because so many of the things we were considering individually are now becoming increasingly connected and inter-related.

One of the things that emerged again as a strong contender for inclusion was cloud computing – which also  made last year’s list of 1-2 years to adoption. Without doubt, cloud computing is making its mark across the wider spectre of business as well – and so I was interested to read this week a post by Dion Hinchcliffe on ZNet titled “8 Ways That Cloud Computing with Change Business“.

I’ve always enjoyed Dion’s ability to summarise key ideas in the IT arena, particularly through his use of diagrams such as the one at the head of this post which for me summarises the pros and cons of cloud computing very well both by representing an even number of both the pros and the cons, but by showing the cons as a lesser force, and the pros becoming more dominant.

In considering the 8 statements that Dion has shared from a business perspective, I thought I’d have a crack at presenting some thoughts on how I see cloud computing changing education – in particular, schools – in the near future. (note – I am aware that in some of the ideas represented here I am blurring the boundaries between cloud computing and virtualisation, but the impacts are still valid.)

  1. Reduced and/or simplified expenditure on software licensing –  Software licenses are less of an issue with many cloud-based apps provided free or at very low cost. Increasingly we’ll also see more pay-for-use licensing, and licensing arrangements that take into account the specific needs and use of schools and individuals.
  2. Decreased reliance on school-based ICT staff – fewer applications hosted locally means less to do for school-based technical staff, with their particular skills and abilities diverted to local network and infrastructure needs, or reduced even further through aggregation demand through the provision of on-demand online help desks and remote access support.
  3. Enabling greater ubiquity of access for students and staff – for too long we’ve limited our view of ICT in schools to what happens at the installed desktops in schools (often in labs). Increasingly staff and students are requiring (demanding?) ubiquitous access to their files, applications and social connections – any time, any place, any device. Cloud computing provides a powerful way of achieving this.
  4. Reduce/eliminate problems associated with software version control and updates – using cloud-based applications means that schools will no longer have to worry about the ongoing issue of software updates as they happen automatically in the cloud. No more problems associated with some computers in the school operating one version of the software, and others another – or worse, always being a version behind (or ahead?) at home.
  5. Ease of leveraging benefits of shared management systems (LMS, SMS etc) – currently the bain of most school administrator’s lives, the management systems that are used to help make the running of schools more efficient are tending to be more trouble than they are worth. Using cloud-based applications, or virtualising these services, saves schools having to make large, individual investments, firstly in the software, then in the support inevitably required to make it work in the local contest, them by the hardware required to install and run it on, and lastly in the ever expanding requirements for space, air conditioning and UPIs required to keep them running. Then there’s the advantage of having large-scale, interoperable systems that seamlessly allow for the transfer of data (with permissions granted) between systems so that student learning can continue uninterrupted. (Now there’s something to aspire to!!)
  6. Allows for greater experimentation, choice and agility in terms of applications used – lareg, monlithic applications and the access rights, conditions of use and licensing issues around them are often the most constraining aspect of how ICTs are used (or not) in schools. Consider the rapid adoption of Web2.0 technologies outside of school compared to what happens on the inside. Cloud-based services and applications can provide for more nimble, agile use and access – and allow for lots of smaller products and services to be ‘tried out’ without the requirement of a large-scale commitment.
  7. Reduce barriers to participation, contribution, sharing – identity and access management, a major problem in our current education system, can be resolved more readily in a cloud-based world, allowing far greater degrees of shared access across and among systems and applications. So too, the nature of the applications that allow for greater participation and contribution from individuals because individual accounts can be established and managed more easily, and the content that is created and shared in this way can be stored, managed and retrieved across the whole network.
  8. Infinitely expand resource sharing opportunities – the provision of high quality resources to support teaching and learning remains a key focus in schools. The problem is keeping it all up to date and relevant. Cloud computing options provide unlimited opportunities for shared repositories to develop, with access rights and management issues addressed on a wider scale than within an individual school. In addition, catering for the development of teacher and student developed resources becomes more achievable in the cloud.

Footnote – I realise this is a pretty optimistic list, and as Dion’s diagram at the top of the post reminds us, there are still issues with cloud computing that are yet to be fully resolved. However, I can’t see it disappearing as an opportunity, and my intent here is to provoke some thought about the possibilities and generate more discussion about how we can make this happen.

Ten Trends at Learning@School09

The Learning@School conference is rollicking along in Rotorua at the moment, with keynote speaker on day one, Andy Hargreaves, setting the scene with challenges to us all about the need to take account of the whole context and culture of our school when considering change and development. Pam Hook had the audience spell-bond also with her “Hooked on Thinking” ideas and strategies.

Unfortunately for me I am missing the conference, and have had to rely on my Twitter feeds, text messages and the odd call to keep me posted. Having made it to the opening of the conference I’ve had to return home for family reasons. That didn’t stop the presentation I was scheduled to do from going ahead – with my colleague from the Ministry of Education, Douglas Harre, stepping up to share thoughts, insights and ideas based on CORE’s Ten Trends for 2009. This is the annual list of trends developed by CORE staff to represent a view of some key areas of interest for NZ educators with regards to the impact of ICTs on teaching and learning.

This year’s trends are:

  1. Mobile Technologies for learning
  2. Netbooks
  3. Cloud Computing
  4. Learning spaces/environments
  5. Open Education Resources
  6. High Definition Video conferencing
  7. Advanced Networks
  8. Cyber-Citizenary
  9. Green computing
  10. Digital Literacy

The slideshow used at Learning@School is provided here:

For links to other research and lists of trends and predictions for 2009 check out the following:

Horizon Report, 2009

Looking forward to 2009

100 Top Sites for the year ahead

The Future of the Internet III

Horizon report – Australia/NZ edition

21st Century Learning Environments

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills in the US has just released a white paper titled 21st Century Learning Environments, (324Kb PDF) which has been my most significant find this month (and likely to be a key focus of my thinking for the next few months!). Through the discussions in NZ over recent months about the use of LMSs, and recent posts I’ve made about VLEs in the UK, I’ve been also thinking about my experience through last year with Albany Senior High School and the amount of thinking and work that went into the design of the physical environment – and how the whole set of these ideas are actually linked. We need to stop thinking about online environments as separate from the physical spaces we teach and learn in, and begin mapping the similar sets of principles and objectives that inform both.

The P21CS white paper captures so much of what I’ve been thinking brilliantly, and lays out some of those principles and ideas in a way that makes it easy to understand and engage with. it states;

The term “learning environment” suggests place and space – a school, a classroom, a library. And indeed, much 21st century learning takes place in physical locations like these. But in today‟s interconnected andtechnology-driven world, a learning environment can be virtual, online, remote; in other words, it doesn‟t have to be a place at all. Perhaps a better way to think of 21st century learning environments is as thesupport systems that organize the condition in which humans learn best – systems that accommodate the unique learning needs of every learner and support the positive human relationships needed for effective learning. Learning environments are the structures, tools, and communities that inspire students and educators to attain the knowledge and skills the 21st century demands of us all.

Experts say 21st century learning must take place in contexts that “promote interaction and a sense of community [that] enable formal and informal learning.”

The last statement about enabling formal and informal learning appeals to me, particularly in light of the ideas in my previous post about public pedagogy and video games, where I referred to the work of Gee and Haynes who aregue for a reconceptualisation of the way in which we think about formal and informal learning.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s vision is that…

..the 21st century learning environment as an aligned and synergistic system of systems that:

  • Creates learning practices, human support and physical environments that will support the teaching and learning of 21st century skill outcomes
  • Supports professional learning communities that enable educators to collaborate, share best practices, and integrate 21st  century skills into classroom practice
  • Enables students to learn in relevant, real world 21st century contexts (e.g., through project-based or other applied work)
  • Allows equitable access to quality learning tools, technologies, and resources
  • Provides 21st century architectural and interior designs for group, team, and individual learning.
  • Supports expanded community and international involvement in learning, both face-to-face and online

The white paper goes on to explore the principles that would support such environments by examining the structures, time, tools and communities for learning, with a final section devoted to policy issues.

I hope we’ll see, during 2009, more discussion stemming from this holistic view of learning environments, and avoid continuing to make the now arbitary distinction between online and face to face (or home, or learning centre, or local museum or workplace for that matter!!!) as a learning environment.

IMHO this may also help to provide the “compelling reason” schools are searching for as to why they should be adopting and using LMSs/VLEs which in turn may help take them from the level of a “cottage industry” to something more integrate and integral to the teaching and learning that takes place in our school system.

Supporting interoperability…

My previous post appears to have exposed concerns shared by others about the way in which VLEs/LMSs etc are being integrated and used within our schools. The idea that the “promise” of these systems has yet to be realised is due in part to the change in pedagogical practice that is required of those using them, and in part also beacuse of the rapid changes in the technologies upon which these systems are built.

As we see a move away from a ‘walled garden‘  approach to a more open and configurable concept of a learning management system (or any system for that matter), the issue of interoperability becomes key. Just released is a report from SALTIS in the UK titled “Supporting Interoperable Learning Technology – a strategy for better e-learning in schools“, sent to me this morning by my friend Malcolm in the UK. This is an excellent read for those who may be unfamiliar with this rather technical field, as well as those who are working in the field. The concept of interoperability is well explained and illustrated, as is the historical development of standards which is helpful for those who are trying to ‘catch up’ with what has happened.

There’s also a useful discussion around content vs. community that reflects some of Paul’s comments on in my recent post – the fact that it’s not ‘either/or’, but both. On the topic of content, learning objects get a mention – highlighting the complexity of issues in trying to develop a standard for universally ‘portable’ content elements, and reinforcing for me that there’s still a long way to go yet before we’ll have something truly useful.

The scenario towards the end of the report titled “imagining an interoperable future’ provides a useful insight into what advantages there might be to learners and learning if we can succeed in achieving the interoperability vision outlined in the report. For my money this is an excellent starting point for schools looking at implementing any sort of system – begin by creating your own scenarios and building a picture of what you’d like to see acheived, then set about building it up with the tools and applications that will make it happen.

Download as PDF (2.2Mb, 24pp, published January 2009)

VLEs slow to take off

There’s a saying I’ve heard repeatedly made at conferences around NZ in recent years; “It’s not the technology, it’s the pedagogy“. Problem is, when it comes to support for ICT at a system level we still see a lot of emphasis on making the technology available based on the assumption that the professionals working in the field will have the pedagogical nouse to constructively adopt and implement it. Learning Management Systems (also known as Virtual Learning Environments) are a good example it seems.

A recent report from Ofsted in the UK based on a study of of virtual learning environments (VLEs) reveals that schools and colleges have not made great progress with the introduction or use of them. The study found that in many schools and colleges such systems were still on a “cottage industry” scale, although where they were more developed, particularly in colleges, such services were able to “enthuse” students.

The fact is, like any innovation, it all boils down to the enthusiasm of the early adopters. Even in our regular schools/classrooms what we see occuring in classrooms is dependent to a very high degree on the teacher. Referring to where the Ofstead researchers saw good use of VLEs their report quotes:

The best VLEs depended on an enthusiastic teacher, trainer or manager to develop materials and encourage their use amongst learners and staff. A good grasp of information technology was not critical to a good VLE; they flourished where skilled and confident teachers and tutors treated the VLE as an extension of their normal work.

Intersting also that only three of the institutions surveyed had a VLE strategy – a clear sign of the ‘early adopter’ syndrome. The report comments that the benefits to learners [of VLEs] are so far “not yet obvious”, and that “despite expectations”, the arrival of these online support services for learners was “still in the early stages of development”.

An important thing for me is to understand what is meant by the expectations referred to above? The only reference to a declared expectation I could find in the report was reference to “…an expectation from the Government that increased use of technology should enhance learning.

From my experience there’s no one set of expectations, and, in fact, the differences in expectation often lead to the confusions about what exactly we expect from something like at LMS/VLE, and the fact that these are most likely defined by the particlar context of the individual. This perhaps explains why the nomenclature itself is problematic, as referred to in the footnote on page 8 of the report:

VLEs might also be called a learning management system (LMS), course management system (CMS), learning content management system (LCMS), managed learning environment (MLE), learning support system (LSS), online learning centre (OLC) or learning platform (LP).

In New Zealand the Ministry of Education has convened a reference group to begin looking at establishing some guidelines and practical solutions for what they are terming a Managed Learning Environment (MLE). (But don’t go looking for too much information on this yet –  a search of the Ministry’s website returns a nil response for anything to do with Managed Learning Environments, and the only return I got for MLE was an interesting powerpoint dealing with property issues and reference to a Modern Learning Environment).

Already there are emerging tensions between and among many of the participants, with some focusing on expectations of an MLE as a means of sharing and distributing content, while others look to an MLE to enable student driven learning, providing an environment to foster creativity and contribution. At an institutional level expectations and use varies from the provision of online courses to a convenient form of school webiste or extranet.

Of course, these points of view are not mutually exclusive, and the tensions themselves will utlimately make the working group productive (assuming appropriate facilitation). The point I’d like to make, however, is that until these expectations are fully exposed and well understood, then it is unlikely that we’ll see a useful form of VLE/LMS/MLE emerge, and when it does, it is unlikely to be in the form of a specific product or application.

In it’s coverage of the report the Guardian newspaper included the following comment which illustrates how different expectations are manifest in the way VLEs are implemented:

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector, said some schools and colleges were using VLEs as “dumping grounds or storage places for rarely-used files, rather than for material that enhanced the face-to-face learning done inside the classroom”.

She said: “The best VLEs allowed learners to reinforce their routine work, or catch up on missed lessons. In those best cases, the material offered was fun and helpful. In the least effective examples, documents had been dumped on the system and forgotten.” In some cases, she said material posted was unhelpful.

The report is also featured on Teacher’s TV and the 2min40sec video report there is worth viewing, if for no other reason than to observe the examples of classroom learning environments that are used to illustrate where the VLEs are being used – personally I found this difficult to reconcile in terms of the comments by Gilbert above 🙂

Ah well – I guess we’re still embarking on the journey. What I’d hope we’ll see though is an equivalent amount of energy, effort and expense put into understanding the pedagogical value and opporutnities of a VLE/LMS/MLE as we are seeing go into the development (and sales) of products, systems and applications.

Online Conferences/Seminars of interest…

Just back from my trip to Malaysia, this week I begin work on the final report – and in mys “spare” moments will be participating in two online events:


SCoPE online seminar – Personal Learning Environments

Derek Chirnside (from University of Canterbury) and I will be leading a three week discussion on the topic of Personal Learning Environments – referred to the tools and processes that enable us to take greater control over our learning experiences. We’ll be leading discussions on how our understandings of PLEs may change the way we teach and learn.

I’m presenting the third keynote in the Time4Online conference, titled “Educators as Professional Learners” beginning this week. Will be a hard act to follow after the amazing job done by Sheryl Nassbaum-Beach (keynote one) and the student leaders who led last week’s discussion – but it’s a topic dear to my heart, and with the experience of working with teachers in the Malaysian context still fresh in my mind I’m looking forward to it.

Ten Trends for 2007


We’ve added a new logo on the right hand side of the CORE website -titled CORE’s Ten Trends for 2007

Clicking on this logo will take you to a list of ten trends that we’ve identified as being particularly important in 2007. The aim is to create some dialogue around some of the things that are happening in the NZ context regarding the use of ICT in education. The emphasis is on looking at the bigger picture, rather than the things absorb our time every day at the “coal face”.

I will be using these ten trends as the focus of my Spotlight at the Learning@School conference this week, and would love to see plenty of contributions being made in the comments section at the end of each “Trend”.

Each month or so the CORE staff are going to expand one of the themes with further links and references to prompt a deeper level of participation and discussion. We’re sure to have missed some that people think are important, or included some that others think aren’t – all of which should make the discussion fuller and richer!