E-learning with web 2.0


- ► category - VLEs sit on the borderline of web 1.0 and web 2.0; on the one hand, they can be used for information transmission and behaviourist quizzes; on the other hand, they offer channels for communication and interaction. Recently, VLEs have increasingly begun to mimic, or allow interaction with, the wider web 2.0, and we're now seeing the integration of learning analytics functionality. Most major VLEs have app versions available for mobile devices.

- ► what - VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) are also known as LMSs (Learning Management Systems) or sometimes CMSs (Course Management Systems). They are 'walled' online environments, usually password-protected, where members can access a range of informational resources (such as text documents, slideshows, podcasts or vodcasts) and a range of communicative channels (which traditionally include synchronous chatrooms and asynchronous discussion boards). In addition, there are normally organisational functions (such as announcements and calendars) as well as administrative functions (such as access logs and marks sheets) which can be used by teachers. Teachers may also choose to make use of web 1.0-style quizzes and tests.Increasingly, learning analytics tools are included, allowing teachers and students to derive educational insights from online learning activities.

- ► why - As noted above, VLEs are in many ways a borderline tool, with their informational aspects giving them a rather web 1.0 orientation, while their communicative channels give them a web 2.0 orientation. Indeed, they predate web 2.0 but they have continued to evolve with it, and many VLEs now incorporate core web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. However, it has been widely observed that many educators use VLEs primarily as 'information dumps', posting copies of class notes, slideshows and handouts, thus using them very much in a web 1.0 manner. On the other hand, those educators who wish to teach in a more web 2.0 manner often choose to work outside VLEs, where there are far more services to choose from, the tools are more flexible, and much greater customisation is possible. As "one stop shops" which attempt to cover all informational and communicational possibilities, VLEs are unable to compete with the wide range of specialised services on the wider web 2.0.

For this reason, many observers have predicted that institutional VLEs will eventually disappear, or at least decline in significance relative to more personalised spaces such as PLEs and e-portfolios. Others have predicted that future education is likely to be characterised by some combination of VLEs and PLEs; this might involve a transformed concept of the VLE,which would simply be a learning space where institutions and teachers can collect together educational apps designed by expert developers. For now, the long-term survival of VLEs, and in particular their format, remains an open question.

- ► how - The setup of VLEs may be a little more complex than the setup of most web 2.0 platforms. To set one up, you either need a computer which can function as a server, or you need to use a VLE hosting service.

- ► where - Many educational institutions use proprietary software such as Blackboard or WebCT (now a single company with a single website), Brightspace (created by D2L, the company formerly known as Desire2Learn), or the newer SEQTA and Stile. Increasing numbers of institutions are using Edmodo or Schoology, which derive many of their features from social networking sites, as VLEs.

The best-known of the free, open source alternatives to commercial VLEs is Moodle (see image above left), which also has paid hosting services available. For an introduction to using Moodle, see Moodleflair. The SLoodle project seeks to combine a VLE (Moodle) with a virtual world (Second Life and/or OpenSim), as described on the virtual worlds page. Alternatives to Moodle include Sakai and Drupal, both of which are also free but have paid hosting services available. Newer services which provide similar functionality to traditional VLEs, often with a more social focus, include Howard Rheingold's free, educational, Drupal-based service called the Social Media Collaboratory, and the group interaction service Wiggio.

- ► variations - If you don't feel confident about your level of technical expertise, and don't want to pay for a hosting service, you might prefer to set up a wiki, which can incorporate many of the same functions as a VLE and for which there are a number of free educational hosting services. Another option is to use a social networking service as a kind of mini-VLE; the best-known educationally oriented example is Edmodo.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about VLEs, see the E-learning references page. You'll also find current information in the E-learning tag cloud.

Credits: The image above left shows the Moodle logo. I owe the Stile link to Tim Manea.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.