What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)?
A Virtual Learning Environment or VLE is a design space for teaching and learning.
For some, “virtual” conjures up an artificial world that replaces real life. But virtual learning environments neither replace classrooms nor existing educational practices. They enhance them. They add value as they extend the space of the physical learning environment. They provide opportunities to stretch the imaginations of teachers and students alike.
Technically speaking, virtual learning environments are designed spaces that resemble architecturally sophisticated buildings. Think of an ideal place of teaching and learning, one where the messy desk covered in coffee-stained assessments and the equally large pile of lesson plans all moves to your laptop. Teachers effortlessly move between assessment, feedback, sharing and monitoring without knocking over their coffee in the process. Students have their assessments returned swiftly — unstained.
A virtual learning environment offers not only an elegantly designed space for teaching and learning, but a place where learners, teachers and students feel at ease. A good VLE allows users to co-construct their learning environments together over time. With all that goes into a physical classroom – the lesson plans, the homework, the conversations – why not make use of virtual learning environment software to organise, share and process it all?
Far from being an anti-social space that replaces real life, the right VLE enhances the social space of a classroom. It opens possibilities for discussion threads, polls and surveys. It allows students to submit work without having to find their teachers. It provides hubs for an infinite number of resources in the form of documents, worksheets and Power Points. Using a VLE, teachers can link students to other online pathways and embed videos from YouTube, articles from newspapers and provide platforms for student-created podcasts. More than just a virtual repository for learning resources, the most valuable virtual learning environments and virtual learning software offer gateways to limitless pathways of connection, content and learning from which teachers, school leaders, students and parents all benefit.
A virtual learning environment 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
Typical Features of a Virtual Learning Environment
- An extensive array of course resources and tools: Educators can create content like lesson plans, and students can perform and submit assigned tasks using various options. Class interaction is done via classrooms and forums. Tools such as mailboxes for communication, and office and multimedia suites for creating coursework are at the disposal of users.
- A personalized user experience: Content is customized depending on how the learner is progressing through a course. This allows interest in courses to be maintained.
- Extensive data tracking: The ability to keep track of learner data allows educators to assess the effectiveness of their courses and the learning ability of their students. Learners can track their grades and take proactive measures if their performance is below par.
- Offline learning capabilities: If online learning is not possible, e.g., poor internet connection, educators can use a module that allows offline creation of electronic records that can be synchronized back into the VLE once an internet connection becomes available.
- Automated alerts and notifications: Educators are alerted to student submissions and non-submissions, allowing them to call the attention of erring students when needed. Learners can use this feature to alert themselves of impending deadlines.
- Central storage of learning materials:Helps users stay organized through an easily accessible location for all class materials.
- Reporting and analytics based on eLearning objectives: Customizable reports and visual dashboards showing learner data allow educators to know at a glance where their students are encountering difficulties. They can then make adjustments to their lesson plans accordingly.
- Remote-work-friendly transition: Makes transitioning to a remote-only mode easy.
- Compliance-ready records: Records are kept and stored for easy retrieval in accordance with government regulations.
- Assessment tools: Educators can gauge how learners are reacting to their materials, helping them improve their course content and provide learners with feedback.
- Flexible scheduling and testing: Educators can create tests of all kinds and allow students to select their own schedules. Learners can opt to take tests once they’re ready.
- Tight integration with management information and other systems: Tightly integrated systems make for better management of learning outcomes. Educators, in particular, will find it easier to assess class performance in combination with data from other systems.
TYPES OF VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
- Distance Learning Degree Programs
- Professional Certification Courses
- Instructional Videos
- Video or Audio Lectures
- Books, Articles, and Other Writings
- High School or University Classes
For your business, your virtual learning environment might include your employee handbook, instructions on how to use new software or equipment, sales or customer service training, new employee orientation, and more. As with any type of training system, there are virtual learning environment advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of a Virtual Learning Environment
- Easy Tracking and Assessment:With your virtual learning environment software, it’s easy to tell which employees have completed the activities. Built-in assessments like quizzes can help you ensure they’re absorbing the material.
- Seamless Delivery:Every employee has access to the same material, no matter when he or she gets hired. Your message is consistent through the years; when you make a change in company policy, that can be updated in your learning system, and all employees have access to it.
- Time Savings:You don’t always know when you will have to hire a new employee. If someone quits unexpectedly and is replaced, you might not have time to train the new employee properly. She might have to wait for a yearly seminar; in the meantime, she’s under-prepared and overwhelmed, which puts the position at risk again. With a virtual learning environment, your new employees receive thorough training immediately.
- Financial Savings:With an investment in virtual learning platforms, you’re paying someone (or taking the time yourself) to develop curriculum once, which can then be used over and over again. Compare this to the expense of hosting workshops every time you hire new people or make changes in your business: paying speakers and instructors, arranging venues and travel, and losing productivity when employees are out of the office. It’s easy to see how cost effective a virtual learning environment is.
- Communication and Connection:BBC Active mentions communication as one of the advantages of a virtual learning environment. With forums and message boards, seasoned employees can answer questions and offer mentoring and advice for new employees. This saves time for those in management roles and builds a sense of connection and community among your team.
- Flexibility:Employees can choose where and when to complete the trainning. They can revisit sections that were unclear, or review the entire curriculum from time to time. It’s also flexible for you since you can add or change material at any time.
Disadvantages of a Virtual Learning Environment
- Dwindling Attention Spans:How many browser windows do you have open right now? Many people are programmed to multi-task when they’re on the computer, despite studies showing that 98% of people are not good at multi-tasking. This could lead to skimming articles or starting a video that turns into background noise as they try to complete another project at the same time. Of course, you can help prevent that by keeping lessons and videos short and simple.
- Getting Lost in the Material:Depending on each employee’s learning style, some might feel lost when they can’t ask an instructor for clarification in real time. Others might require lessons that are more hands-on, visual, or auditory than what you end up offering on your platform.
- Discomfort with Technology:Though many industries rely heavily on technology and employees are well-versed in its use, you might be in an industry that doesn’t require that kind of knowledge. In this case, you might have employees who feel they have two daunting tasks ahead of them: taking the training and understanding the virtual learning environment software that allows them to take the training.
- Limitations:A virtual learning environment might not be the most effective way to teach someone to build or use a complicated piece of machinery. It also doesn’t offer that human-to-human contact, which may limit your opportunities for team-building and role playing activities, brainstorming, or discussion.
The good news is that when you base your training in a virtual learning environment, you still have the option to supplement it with in-person classroom-style training on an as-needed basis. In the meantime, you’re benefiting from the many advantages of using virtual learning platforms.
Only you can decide what type of training is the best fit for your company, and you owe it to yourself to learn as much as possible before you make that investment.
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