The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a modernisation to the traditional classrooms concerned with pens, paper and textbooks. This archaic and stereotypical convention of the classroom is rapidly developing into a technological enterprise, trading books for laptops and paper for tablets. A technology based learning environment can use many features. These features are the ‘technological infrastructure’ or building blocks as a new way for teachers to teach and learners to learn.
As good as the VLE appears to be, my personal opinion would be an integration of both physical and virtual learning. The Blended Learning Environment (BLE) shares elements of traditional teaching with actual teacher and pupil presence with the virtual teaching aspects. This aims to accommodate multiple pedagogies and discourses dependant on tasks. This is already in practice through the use of the ‘flipped classroom’.
The ‘Flipped Classroom’
A ’flipped’ classroom is a pedagogical model reversing the standard lesson structure of didactic learning. The model makes use of video presentations that are shown before the lesson. This enables the teacher contact-time to focus on exercises, projects and discussions. There are several different models to a ‘flipped classroom’.
Padlet as a VLE Tool
One example of how virtual learning is achieved is through computer programmes like “Padlet”. Padlet is a way of pupils’ ‘texting’ responses and answers to a shared page. The teacher, on their electronic whiteboard, then presents this rather than lecturing from a book. This replaces the awkward silences with pupils interacting in a familiar way within the increasing “digital native” culture.
Digital natives are essentially, native speakers of the digital language. The digital native culture possesses different skill types to other generations that have had to adopt tech skills. These skills and characteristics include; multi-tasking, graphic awareness and the desire for interactivity. The opposition to the ‘digital native’ is that of the ‘digital immigrant’.
A ‘digital immigrant’ can be used to describe those being ‘adopted’ into the new technological age. This can stereotypically be your grandparent or older relative, struggling to send a text message. This community are stuck in old ways of books and paper. This is because they have not been brought up into new tech but rather, had it presented to them. They have a “digital immigration accent”, turning to tech as a secondary provision of information if needed.
This history of the VLE includes the development of learning materials delivered through emerging media formats. VLE technological advances include:
- Videos and Tape recordings
- Introductions of SCORMs (Sharable Content Object Reference Model)
- LMSs (Learning Management Systems) – Eg: Blackboard
- MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) – Eg: Duolingo
Pros and Cons
Success of the VLE is very much dependant on ‘enablers’. An enabler for the VLE to become a success would be the digital native community becoming teachers and leaders. This would mean evolving the learning of digital immigrants, or taking over completely. The community has more knowledge and experience with tech. This means that the use of such tech can be done more successfully within education. Another enabler is already occurring. The volume of products being created and implemented is increasing all the time. iPads, iPhones and MacBook’s are being updated every year. New computer software turning lesson plans to fantasy games and quests are also being developed to change the way of the archaic lesson. This is easing the shift of traditional classroom lessons to total virtual learning.
There are many advantages to using virtual learning. There are benefits for everyone within the school community:
- For Teachers;
- Lesson plans are easily collaborated with Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Cover Teachers
- Lesson plans are easily edited and updated to work alongside changing societies
- Grades can be easily exported to different software’s, creating data’s and statistics quickly
- For Students;
- Personalised online workspace to create a more independent feel
- Eased communication between student and teacher for support
- Increased availability for research to help improve work
- For Parents, Governors, Senior Leadership Teams;
- Access for the above communities to check pupil and teacher work and grades
- Eased availability for all groups within the school community to contact each other with news updates, activities…
Not everything about the VLE is advantageous. For this to be a success, the correct technology is required for full participation (video recorders required to create a film). A lack of tech of course can act as a barrier. Another disadvantage to aspects of the VLE include small communities of practice with specialised equipment is not globalised for a wide range of interaction. This can cause an elitist sense of virtual learning, excluding those without specific tech or knowledge.
Is Tech the answer?
I believe that education can benefit by working together with advancing tech but not losing that personal teaching relationship and passion that tech just cannot yet provide. So it appears that it may be time for education to be at one with tech. As celebrity educational advocates, like Shakira and Angelina Jolie, aim to create schools from scratch in poverty stricken areas; it seems strange to think that problems in England’s education system lie in whether children should have iPads or not.