Virtual Learning Environments

The Alternatives to Virtual Learning Environments

What we know as Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), also known as Learning Management Systems (LMS) in some parts of the world, have been at the core of learning institutions since 1995. 

Although many organizations value a central platform for the submission of work, collaboration, and communication, there are valid questions about the effectiveness of VLEs as a way to promote innovation and flexibility of learning.

We’ve embraced the explosion of apps (that have more of a specific or single-purpose than a VLE), we use more of a variety of online tools than ever before, many of them integrate with each other, and it means we may be falling out of love with the idea of a big clunky VLE.    

VLEs were introduced to manage the learning experience, and facilitate tutors and trainers involved in that experience. Typical VLEs should contain formal assessment tools, student tracking, notice boards, and complete course content. Depending on the VLE, this could include quiz making tools, media, doc integrations (Google, Office 365 etc.)

But in recent years, students have demanded that content should be available on all devices, particularly phones, and some VLEs haven’t been able to provide a decent experience on a phone. 

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One of the biggest obstacles to learning through VLEs has been the user experience and the trainer/learner’s ability to understand the technology in order to get the most from it. This is one reason why many Virtual Learning Environment providers have been so keen to provide support, but this isn’t always possible when using something like Google Classroom or Moodle. 

Also, tutors and trainers are often unable to afford the time to learn new systems, so many VLE providers have deliberately designed their tools to be as familiar as possible and try to reduce the need for product training and support.

A key driver for organizations to invest in a VLE has been compliance. So even if companies aren’t getting good value from a VLE, they’re unlikely to remove it in a hurry. But if an organization doesn't intend to use all the functions and don’t get value for money, then what alternatives are there?

  1. One option is an ILE (and Informal Learning Environment). Typically an area of a network or microsite, where L&D content can be rapidly added, edited and updated. Learning content could be in the form of video/audio, slideshows, infographics, articles, blogs, wikis, forums and links. When it comes to rich, multimedia content, there’s nothing online content can offer that a simple PDF can’t.
  2. A low end LMS like Wordpress. A simple online home for your course content.
  3. Elearning portals like Sharepoint, which can offer a curated library of content, along with forums and the possibility of tracking.
  4. Next generation learning environments. Generally more focused on the user experience than traditional VLEs and designed to facilitate learning in smaller chunks via video and social learning. Social media platforms could themselves also be used to support learning.

The landscape of online learning is changing, and there are more ways than ever to deliver courses and create learning experiences. If you’re unsure of the best tools for you, ask yourself.

  • What are my learners demanding? How would they like to interact and learn?
  • What resources and time do you have to upskill yourself in the management of courses through a VLE or an alternative?
  •  What data do you need to track and assess your learners or the success of your training or your content?

The answer will (more likely now than ever before) not lead you towards using a full VLE or LMS. 

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