A VLE fit for purpose – define purpose

Creating teaching materials that are more engaging is at last being recognised by the majority of teaching staff as the right thing to do and to most of us its equally essential to make the resulting courses accessible to students and learners inside and out of a classroom on demand and available on the learners choice of devices. It’s just good practice, common sense, blindingly obvious to some but seemingly not to others.

We regularly publish articles on how to create such resources using tools that are easy to use, free or low cost and part of a blended learning programme but also how to make them available online identifying systems and software that address the need in different ways. Such an article was published some months ago titled ‘What is a VLE‘ and I was reminded of it whilst taking part in an online course recently in which participants share experiences using technology and the subject of learning platforms came up. Comments such as:

“Our VLE is restricted, clunky, unresponsive to user needs, slow to evolve and dated”, another said “it doesn’t look good, it’s awkward to use and students are unwilling to engage with it.” yet another said “we can’t afford a VLE, any suggestions?”

Well yes, plenty and it would appear from these comments, that there are teachers committed to enhancing learning resources but even if they have a platform in many cases they are loathe to use it yet here they were trying to find a solution when I would suggest that the responsibility to do that is way above their skills set, management wise. Teachers just want to teach using tools and delivery that are fit for 2015.moodle

It’s not difficult to recognise what is wrong. If two organisations use say Moodle and one VLE is all singing and dancing, with innovative course formats and stylish themes, is used by staff and popular with learners. But the other learning providers Moodle is ‘clunky, unresponsive, doesn’t look good etc.’ then the problem isn’t the platform it’s probably how it is being managed and supported throughout the organisation. It isn’t rocket science.

I liken it to those that use the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ when it is probably one of the most useful tools in a teacher’s armoury sitting right there on the desktop if only they were shown how to include animation, audio, video, links to YouTube, add narration and save as a movie to make available on line on multiple devices.  It’s not the application, it’s how it is used that makes the difference. The better managed learning providers would include it in a CPD programme, others seemingly not but if teaching staff were shown how to get the best out of PP and the other tools available, they would still need a learning platform that is fit to deliver it.

Transforming, even acquiring a learning platform is only a part of the process, the more enterprising colleges and providers regard the VLE as an essential component of any learning Technology Strategy incorporating best practice, staff development and subsequently learner engagement. If in doubt, simply take a look at the best examples, there are plenty of them then compare your own.

For those learning providers that neither have the resources or skill set to bring the learning platform up to a required quality then buy it in and yes it will have a price, and in this climate leadership will cry foul. But a) they don’t know what the price is yet and b) they definitely won’t know what the cost of not running as good a system as the college up the road has.


Nick Boles

In my opinion ‘Examine thyself” would be a good start, a root and branch technical review best done by impartial outside specialists and I would say that wouldn’t I ? But few organisations can judge itself impartially, that’s why they are where they are. But it is a basic essential and it works, as the subsequent report will identify strengths and weakness and propose options to address them. Including, in the case of a VLE, suggest alternatives, recommending actions which may cost little or nothing and if necessary, calling on specialists with the track record to transform a sow’s ear into a high tech silk purse.

Coincidentally an item published in FE News on the 17th November was based on a speech by Nick Boles in which he says ‘why on earth are you letting these guys [ILPs] nick your lunch?” and I have already commented that Independent Learning Providers (ILP’s) and many colleges don’t have to ‘nick anyone’s lunch‘ when their own is so much better .

Like the man said, “if you are staying as you are, you are actually going backwards, you just haven’t noticed.”

Colin Gallacher
Learning Technology Adviser

Read more: Tell me more about VLE
Learning Technology Review
When is an IT strategy, not an IT strategy?
Days of Staff Development, are they effective?
Making a silk purse out of an outdated, inefficient…


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