A virtual learning environment (VLE) in educational technology is a Web-based platform for the digital aspects of courses of study, usually within educational institutions. VLEs typically:
- allow participants to be organized into cohorts, groups and roles
- present resources, activities and interactions within a course structure
- provide for the different stages of assessment
- report on participation; and have some level of integration with other institutional systems.
For those who edit them, VLEs may have a de facto role as authoring and design environments. VLEs have been adopted by almost all higher education institutions in the English-speaking world.
The following are the main components required for a virtual learning environment or online education curriculum to take place.
VLE learning platforms commonly allow:
- Content management – creation, storage, access to and use of learning resources
- Curriculum mapping and planning – lesson planning, assessment and personalisation of the learning experience
- Learner engagement and administration – managed access to learner information and resources and tracking of progress and achievement
- Communication and collaboration – emails, notices, chat, wikis, blogs
- Real time communication – live video conferencing or audio conferencing
A VLE may include some or all of the following elements:
- The course syllabus
- Administrative information about the course: prerequisites, credits, registration, payments, physical sessions, and contact information for the instructor.
- A notice board for current information about the ongoing course
- The basic content of some or all of the course; the complete course for distance learning applications, or some part of it, when used as a portion of a conventional course. This normally includes material such as copies of lecture in the form of text, audio, or video presentations, and the supporting visual presentations
- Additional resources, either integrated or as links to outside resources. This typically consists of supplementary reading, or innovative equivalents for it.
- Self-assessment quizzes or analogous devices, normally scored automatically
- Formal assessment functions, such as examinations, essay submission, or presentation of projects. This now frequently includes components to support peer assessment
- Support for communications, including e-mail, threaded discussions, chat rooms, Twitter and other media, sometimes with the instructor or an assistant acting as moderator. Additional elements include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces.
- Links to outside sources – pathways to all other online learning spaces are linked via the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment).
- Management of access rights for instructors, their assistants, course support staff, and students
- Documentation and statistics as required for institutional administration and quality control
- Authoring tools for creating the necessary documents by the instructor, and, usually, submissions by the students
- Provision for the necessary hyperlinks to create a unified presentation to the students.
- Interactive online whiteboard for live virtual classes
A VLE is normally not designed for a specific course or subject, but is capable of supporting multiple courses over the full range of the academic program, giving a consistent interface within the institution and—to some degree—with other institutions using the system. The virtual learning environment supports an exchange of information between a user and the learning institute he or she is currently enrolled in through digital mediums like e-mail, chat rooms, web 2.0 sites or a forum thereby helping convey information to any part of the world with just a single click.
In principle a learning platform is a safe and secure environment that is reliable, available online and accessible to a wide user base. A user should be able to move between learning platforms throughout their life with no loss of access to their personal data. The concept of a learning platform accommodates a continuously evolving description of functionality changing to meet the needs of the user. Becta publishes functional requirements and technical specifications that give a more precise description of how a learning platform may be constructed.
Student accessibility features
One of the processes to enhance the learning experience was the virtual resource room, which is student centered, works in a self-paced format, and which encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning. In virtual mode, the materials are available in the form of computer aided learning program, lecture notes, special self-assessment module. Another mechanism for student to student interactions in a form of simple discussion forum is by using a novel link cyber tutor. This allows the students with an email account to connect with course content and the staff with their doubts and related questions. The students are able to contact the staff without a face to face visit which saves the on campus time. The staff remains anonymous which allows for the several staff to act as a cyber tutor during the course. The student do not remain anonymous although their email address are cryptic enough to mask their identity. Students can discuss about the exams, lab reports, posters, lectures, technical help with downloading materials. The evaluation of the use of Virtual resource room is done by surveys, focus groups and online feedback forms. The students have 24 hours of access to the learning material in a day which suits their life styles.
Computerized learning systems have been referred to as electronic educational technology, e-learning, learning platform or learning management system. The major difference is that VLE and LMS are applications, whereas the Learning Platform shares characteristics with an Operating System (or CoursePark Platform) where different educational web-based applications can be run on the platform.
The terms virtual learning environment (VLE) and learning platform are generically used to describe a range of integrated web-based applications that provide teachers, learners, parents and others involved in education with information, tools and resources to support and enhance educational delivery and management. These terms are broadly synonymous with 'managed learning environments' (MLEs) and 'managed virtual learning environments' (MVLEs).
The applications that form part of these online services can include web pages, email, message boards and discussion forums, text and video conferencing, shared diaries, online social areas, as well as assessment, management and tracking tools.
The term learning platform refers to a range of tools and services often described using terms such as educational extranet, VLE, LMS, ILMS and LCMS providing learning and content management. The term learning platform also includes the personal learning environment (PLE) or personal online learning space (POLS), including tools and systems that allow the development and management of eportfolios.
The specific functionality associated with any implementation of a learning platform will vary depending upon the needs of the users and can be achieved by bringing together a range of features from different software solutions either commercially available, open source, self-built or available as free to use web services. These tools are delivered together via a cohesive user environment with a single entry point, through integration achieved by technical standards.
- a learning management system (LMS). Related concepts include content management system (CMS), which properly refers to the organization of the educational or other content, not the overall environment; learning content management system (LCMS), which is more often used for corporate training systems than for systems in education institutions; managed learning environment (MLE), which normally refers to the overall infrastructure in an institution of which the VLE is a component, learning support system (LSS); online learning centre (OLC); or learning platform (LP), education via computer-mediated communication (CMC); or online education. The term "virtual learning environment" is more commonly used in Europe and Asia, while the synonymous term "learning management system" is the more common usage in North America.
The term LMS can also mean "library management system" (which is now more commonly referred to as integrated library system, or ILS).
Institutions of higher and further education use VLEs in order to:
- Economize on the time of teaching staff, and the cost of instruction.
- Facilitate the presentation of online learning by instructors without web authoring experience.
- Provide instruction to students in a flexible manner to students with varying time and location constraints.
- Provide instruction in a manner familiar to the current web-oriented generation of students.
- Facilitate the networking of instruction between different campuses or even colleges.
- Provide for the reuse of common material among different courses.
- Provide automatic integration of the results of student learning into campus information systems.
VLEs are supposed to support many 21st century skills, including:
Both supporters and critics of virtual learning environments recognize the importance of the development of such skills, including creativity, communication, and knowledge application; however, the controversy lies in whether or not virtual learning environments are practical for both teachers and students.
Critics of VLE worry about the disconnect that can occur between the teacher and students, as well as between student to student. Virtual Learning Environments does not provide students with face-to-face interaction and therefore, can deprive students of opportunities for better communication and deeper understanding.
Most VLEs support the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard, but there are no commonly used standards that define how the learner's performance within a course can be transferred from one VLE to another.
There are also standards for sharing content such as those defined by the IMS Global Consortium. Local bodies such as in the schools sector in the UK the DCSF via Becta have additionally defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability.
Virtual learning environments are not limited only to students and learners in university level studies. There are many virtual learning environments for students in grades K-12. These systems are also particularly suited for the needs of independent educational programs, charter schools and home-based education.
As virtual teaching and learning becomes more deeply integrated into curricula, it is important to assess the quality and rigor of virtual programs. The Virtual Learning Program Standards provide a framework for identifying key areas for effective teaching and learning in Virtual Learning Programs throughout the Northeast and the nation.
Educators need benchmark tools to assess a virtual learning environment as a viable means of education.
Walker developed a survey instrument known as the Distance Education Learning Environment Survey (DELES), which is accessible to students anywhere. DELES examines instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy.
Harnish and Reeves provide a systematic criteria approach based on training, implementation, system usage, communication, and support.
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