Last month The Assignment Report pointed out that according to Ofsted, ‘use of VLEs across schools and colleges has been slow to take off’ and concluded that the use of VLEs to enhance learning was ‘not widespread’. This has led some to question whether the VLE, in its current form, is a sufficient and effective means of achieving the government’s aim to personalise learning.
There is no doubt that VLEs provide an excellent tool for organising learning by means of curriculum mapping, student tracking, electronic communication, internet linking etc.: in effect – a digital filing cabinet. However, this is a supply-side approach to learning with the emphasis on teaching and information delivery; whereas in a Web 2.0 enabled world, learning is much more demand driven and the requirement is to bring resources to the learner personalised to his or her perceived need.
This is the real challenge: to customise learning as opposed to standardising teaching. However VLEs are not pedagogically neutral in their support of teaching and learning and their interdependent architecture tends to standardise, rather than customise, learning. This is reinforced by the need for teachers to select and upload resources which will, inevitably, because of the time and effort required, tend to be limited and assignment specific: in effect, electronic handouts which encourage passive learning – new technology, old practice. The danger is that the VLE ends up as little more than a repository for old and rarely used resources.
This critique of VLEs would have been more persuasive had it not been written by someone marketing a search engine which claims to ‘pull’ helpful and approved information (largely drawn from schools publishers it seems) to the searcher. A good idea in itself, but really no more Web 2.0 enabling than well-chosen resources on the VLE in the first place. Expensive too. Reading the first advert I thought it was going to be a bit more sophisticated by drawing on what was being typed into a Word document (something like Microsoft’s irrritating paper clip helper’s big brother, perhaps) but searches were actually made through a standard search box interface. David Black’s product can be seen at www.autology.org