What is a virtual learning environment (VLE)?

desk showing a laptop computer screen with a pot plant to the right

You might hear the phrase “Virtual Learning Environment” or VLE used when talking about the future of Learning & Development. For some, the word ‘virtual learning’ conjures up images of virtual reality and artificial worlds to replace real life, but it is rarely the case. 

A Virtual Learning Environment is a structured, specifically designed space for teaching and learning online. That’s it. They add additional value as they extend the space of the physical learning environment and provide more opportunities to push the imagination and skills of participants and coaches. 

Many people view VLE as an antisocial version of physical classroom learning, but they are wrong. When done correctly, VLE can enhance all the best social aspects of a traditional classroom setting. It opens possibilities for discussion, polls, surveys and live feedback. It makes learning accessible and collaborative, with participants having the same shared experience online as they would in a classroom. And it’s more than just a repository for learning resources, as it can provide opportunities for the most valuable virtual learning experiences, such as greater connection to content and collaboration. 

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There is an old Chinese proverb that includes:-

“Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand.”

Tell me, I’ll forget. Telling ain’t training. No one wants to experience death by Powerpoint. They would likely rather stick pins into their eyes. It is a small wonder then, that information that is simply told to us is forgotten rather quickly. 

Show me, I will remember. We are visual creatures. We take on a lot of information via our eyes and we like a visual story. From cave paintings to modern day movies, we absorb information readily through sight. 

Involve me, I’ll understand. Learning through doing. This is why learning on the job is effective. We learn by repeating, through action, and application. This is where VLE comes in. 

Teaching learners the skills and letting them put them into practice in a safe environment helps understanding and learning transfer.

What are virtual learning environments used for?

It is essentially a collection of software tools that can be used to support and enhance learning. At its most basic level, a VLE can be used to distribute information to learners through documents, electronic resources, videos, podcasts and more. 

They facilitate communication through instant messaging chat systems and offer comfortable and accessible platforms for content delivery. 

In short, they are a digitally facilitated classroom.

What are the advantages of a Virtual Learning Environment?

There are multiple advantages to a VLE. For example, their ease of accessibility caters for greater diversity within learning environments, for both coach and learner alike. 

They also allow for a more engaging and interactive online learning experience, using tools such as annotation, polling and status emojis to enhance interactivity. 

As more businesses, teams and L&D professionals look to embrace virtual learning environments, the uses and possibilities continue to grow.  It is easy to see how VLEs are becoming integral to businesses around the world, especially in recent months. 

As virtual learning environments and their associated platforms, such as Zoom and MS Teams, continue to develop, they will continue to change the way that organisations train their staff. 

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