VLE versus PLE – not dead yet?

"I'm not dead"...

Here’s a fascinating discussion that took place at this year’s ALT-C conference. Some deep issues are explored here, including systems implementation, student ownership of learning, commodification of education in the late 1990s, and what, for me, is the core question – is a VLE a learning system in itself, or simply a content management system for learning materials?

At one point a speaker asks three revealing questions:

  • “How many of you have a VLE?” (all hands go up)
  • “How many of you go to your VLE when you want to learn something?” (one hand goes up)
  • “How many of you go to Google when you want to learn something?” (all hands go up)

Amusingly the next speaker replaces question 2 with;

  • “How many of you go to a lecture when you want to learn something?” (one hand goes up)

These issues are complex, and start to incorporate social networks, RSS and learner autonomy as the debate progresses. Watch the video and decide which side you come down on.

How can VLEs survive?

I hope Megan will forgive me for using such a cultural stereotype as an illustrative image. It is a beautiful picture, though...I’m grateful to Megan Poore (online learning consultant to various Australian Universities) for this and other links. Here’s a link to her excellent tumblr blog – http://meganpoore.tumblr.com/. Being a much more concise thinker than I, Megan tends toward microblogging rather than the swathes of prose I tend to spout on this site.

The man in the video  (Jim Groom, University of Mary Washington) is, believe it or not, sponsored by BlackBoard. And even he suggests that the VLE (or the ‘LMS’ as the rest of the world calls it) can’t compete with open-source or other free tools. His prediction BTW is that Google are most likely to come up with the ubiquitous solution for online learning.

VLEs serve certain administrative functions well – particularly sensitive central services like assessment, where identity, authenticity, privacy, Intellectual Property and submission timeframe are crucial in order to achieve fairness. But I’m not so sure that a VLE is the best tool in providing learning – the interface may be (by necessity of technical implementation) just too clunky compared to free web tools, many of which have $millions spent on R&D.

Perhaps there’s a continuum of control that looks something like this.

Centralised account admin ———————————- User-based account admin

Authenticated ——————————————— Unprotected

Closed VLEs ———————————————– open websites

Then perhaps there’s a continuum than comes out of these

Centralised admin ——————————————-user customisation

And, to extrapolate further, perhaps this leads us to a straightforward choice

University-administrated online learning ———- teacher and learner-controlled online learning

Does this equate to a darker, more controversial choice, where centralised University admin systems actually mitigate against optimum online learning? If so that’s a powerful ironic tension between the raison d’etre of a University – to create learning – and the current methods of delivering it online.