Creating a VLE to Support staff DEVELOPMENT

The video below is a recording of the live stream which took place on Friday 5th June 2020 at 13:00 GMT.

On this page you will find the notes that were showcased on this stream


1) What is a VLE?

"A virtual learning environment (VLE) in educational technology is a Web-based platform for the digital aspects of courses of study, usually within educational institutions. They present resources, activities and interactions within a course structure and provide for the different stages of assessment. "

2) The key Principles of Effective E-Learning

Here we've combined various models on how e-learning can work and coupled them with our own thoughts and experiences to produce one, hopefully easy to follow, model.

The models we have combined come from the following papers:

The Conceptualisation Cycle

Mayes states that in order to learn via technology, learners must go through the following "Conceptualisation Cycle".

Stage 1 - Conceptualisation

The purpose of this stage is to provide the learner with an awareness of what they need to learn and understand.

This is most commonly achieved in face to face classroom or lecture based sessions, but can also take place when the educator uploads resources, such as PowerPoint files or Word handouts, to a VLE.

Mayes calls such online resources "Primary Courseware" and their purpose is to provide learners with information which they need to understand and learn.

It should be noted that Primary Courseware does not actually facilitate learning itself, it's used to provide support for what happens in the classroom and if this is the sole extent of a courses "e-learning" provision then it isn't really e-learning per se, as true learning cannot take place online by just uploading some Powerpoints and handouts for learners to access in their own time.

Mason calls this the "Content + Support" model but we prefer to call this the "Bolt on" model.

This is most commonly seen when trainers first start making use of a VLE. They upload resources for learners to access but this does not impact on the delivery of the module or the tutorial/lecture based support system that is offered.

If an trainer does provide any "web based" resources (as opposed to uploaded PowerPoint files & Word/PDF handouts) then typically these will have been sourced from somewhere else, as opposed to being developed or customised by that trainer to meet the specific needs of their learners.

In addition such online resources will be passive, like a link to another web page or an article for learners to read, as opposed to providing learners with an interactive experience and meaningful feedback based upon said interactions.

In the majority of cases it can be argued that any use of technology here has been "bolted on" to the existing course and is peripheral to the core learner experience, neither enhancing their learning opportunities or providing any real logistical gains.

Stage 2 - Construction

The purpose of the construction stage is to provide learners with meaningful online tasks that allow them to apply the concepts outlined to them in the conceptualisation stage, Mayes calls such online activities "Secondary Courseware" and these usually take the form of online self marking tests which then provide learners with feedback based upon their responses or final score.

The introduction of Secondary Courseware normally occurs when tutors have gained the confidence and competence with the technology to be in a position to either develop new online resources or modify existing ones to suit the needs of their learners on an ongoing and on-demand basis. Such content will be "wrapped around" existing or traditional content and typically learners will spend half of their time engaged with each, Mason refers to this model of teaching the 50/50 or "Wrap Around" model.

In our experience it takes educators and trainers a few months to reach this stage, having previously engaged with the "bolt on" approach as they become familiar with the technology and the possibilities it offers.

In comparison to the "bolt on" model, the learners have more freedom and responsibility in shaping their own learning experience, as they are able to pick and choose which online activities they wish to interact with. They obtain feedback based on their interactions, whilst still engaging with the "core" traditional resources which would typically be delivered in a face to face classroom environment.

Stage 3 - Dialogue

This is the stage where learning actually takes place using technology & the benefits of doing so can be observed, both in terms of the learner experience and in efficiency gains in running an online course. It allows learners to interact with one another to gain a common understanding of the topic and thus taking some of the pressure away from the trainer.

This is achieved by learners participating in effective Computer Based Communication (CMC) with the trainer and peers to identify any misunderstandings in the skills and topics being taught.

This is typically only achievable when the educators/trainers running the course are at completely at ease with the technology and are able to use it as naturally as they might a whiteboard and marker, Mason calls this the "Integrated" model:

Here trainers possess the confidence and competence to use the technology to make the transition from be a sage to a mentor; guiding the learners through the curriculum and supporting them to come together to form a Community of practice, engaging in Social constructionism to interact with one another to develop a shared understanding of the learning outcomes of a particular course.

The learner experience is defined by online collaborative activities, learning resources and joint assessments and mirrors the way in which the majority of people actually do their day job.

The vast majority of the course will be online and learners will be able to pick and choose which resources they wish to engage with, as well as working with their peers to co-author new resources for the learner group to make use of.

In many ways this could be considered as the "apex" of e-learning as we presently understand it and as such is only really possible once the educators leading the course have successfully integrated the use of technology into their learning cultures and are able to use it quickly, confidently and robustly.

BUT... Adults learn differently to children!

"Malcolm Shepherd Knowles (1913 – 1997) was an American educator well known for the use of the term Andragogy as synonymous to adult education. According to Malcolm Knowles, andragogy is the art and science of adult learning, thus andragogy refers to any form of adult learning. (Kearsley, 2010).

The term andragogy can be supposedly equivalent to the term pedagogy. Andragogy in Greek means man-leading in comparison to pedagogy, which in Greek means child-leading. However, it should be noted that the term pedagogy has been used since the Ancient Greek times, while Alexander Kapp, a German educator, first used the term andragogy in 1833."


In summary

Based on our experiences and from the research of others, in our humble opinion the bottom line is this.

If you want to use e-learning effectively you need to provide three things for your delegates:

  1. Multiple Online resources for them to access which have the same learning outcome - i.e some text to read, a diagram to look at, a video to watch etc which all allow the learner to aquire the same knowledge or skill set.
  2. Each resource should be accompanied by a line of text which explains why this specific thing is being taught and how learning it will benefit them.
  3. Self marking tests which allow them to test their knowledge gained from the resources.
  4. An online forum, chat room or some other system allowing delegates to engage in effective Computer Based Communication (CMC) with each other as well as the trainer.

3) Introducing Google Sites

Google Sites is a free website creation and hosting service that is offered by Google. While it can be used for a wide variety of purposes, trainers can use it to:

  • Create a web based learning platform for delegates
  • Host resources for learners to access
  • Host self marking online tests for delegates to complete

As Google Sites is not a fully fledged VLE platform, it lacks the advanced tools which dedicated platforms might offer, however for a SME seeking to try out online and blended learning for the first time, it is a good choice to begin with.

4) Introducing Moodle

Moodle is the world's most popular learning management system, used by businesses and educational institutions all over the world.

5) Summary

The purpose of the live-stream and these notes is not to tell you which a VLE tool is best for you, but rather make you aware of what is possible and to signpost you toward a free tools that you can experiment with right away.

After taking a look at the tools showcased here, you may wish to cast an eye over some alternatives and then pick one that best meets your needs.