09 January, 2009

Choosing a VLE - or Something Else?

Tony Karrer has written an interesting post on his eLearning Technology blog about the time it takes to select and implement a Learning Managment System. Not quite the same as a VLE but close enough for this post.

This is relevant because at Edge Hill we're looking at what we're going to do in the future. Our contract with Blackboard is for another 18 months at least, but to prevent ourselves remaining tied in to a system, we need to get to a place where we can answer questions such as:

  • What systems are available, and possibly customisable, that would help us improve teaching and learning?
  • Are the systems flexible enough to deal with a quickly changing Web? This is something that VLEs have struggled to do in the past.
  • Is anything flexible enought to keep happy all stakeholders with their, often specific but always changing requirements?
  • What amount of work would be involved in implementation, maintainance, migration, staff development, student training and support?

In his post, Tony mentions data from the eLearningGuild that suggests the process takes 23 months from start to finish, but notes that some things can reduce the time taken, and that the selection part can take under 2 months in some cases. At Edge Hill we've not experienced this process, having only upgraded from WebCT/Bb CE4 to CE6 in the past. In that case, upgrading was the only realistic option with the resources available, but if research is done and decisions are made in enough time, it widens the possiblities.

There's a lot of talk about moving away from VLEs, and I'm interested in the idea of educating students to develop and maintain their own personal learning environments which will live on beyond their formal education. However it seems to me that there is still a place for the VLE. While a personal learning environment (including VLEs and ePortfolios) is a place for the student to learn and be in control, there still needs to be a place for the teacher to teach.

Also I've still not heard anyone give a realistic suggestion as to how, other than a VLE type system, we could enable staff to use a variety of online tools that all the students can easily access, without administration and student support requirements growing massively.

However, perhaps the actual technology chosen is not the only issue? In Mark Stiles' article Death of the VLE?: A Challenge to a New Orthodoxy from a couple of years ago, he notes that "rather than resulting in innovation, the use of VLEs has become fixed in an orthodoxy based on traditional educational approaches". I've heard more than one educator say that VLEs and other online technologies were of benefit to them because they made them challenge and rethink their teaching methods, and so understand them better. Perhaps it's the process of change itself, alongside guidance around good practice, that will help us better understand and practice teaching and learning?