Away from the Monolith

For the past 10 years the mainstay of eLearning has been the Virtual Learning Environment.  A student goes to a class and logs onto the VLE to answer the quizzes or do their homework.  As time has moved on, the VLE has added features in that let you add video and audio to bring it upto date, but its big advantage has always been that it can ‘do anything’  Moodle, one of the most popular VLE platforms has dozens of plugins which let you add things such as drag and drop questions, wiki pages, set up forums and use live chat on your courses.  Want to have a load of pictures, you can use the picture gallery.

About six months ago, i watched a presentation by Lewis Carr about the future of the VLE and he made some interesting points about its current state.  This reminded me of another presentation a number of years ago at a conference which said that all learning would in the future be personal, there would be no need to create content for the class and it could all be crowdsourced – The end of the college system as we knew it.  Well thankfully this hasn’t come to pass.  Colleges are still needed and we still use the VLE as the main point of call for eLearning.  But as Lewis pointed out, the VLE needs to change to survive the next few years.

Here are our college, we have brought Google Apps for Education into the mix and use both Moodle and Google Classroom (GC) as our VLEs.  What we have found is that they have both got their uses but also their drawbacks.  If you have never used GC before, the easiest way to explain it is facebook for education.  It works as a stream of content so that, in general, each peace of content slides the next piece down.  Sure you can get your students to submit work on it, but it is more of a hub than a full blown VLE.  want to add something to your class, just drag the link from a browser and it creates an announcement that is sent out to all your students.  Of course the downside is that GC is designed to be used there an then.  This is the main difference that teachers have commented upon.

Moodle on the other hand, if you have the time and the will, you can create all your content for the year and then make it available at the time you wish for your students.  The problem is it does do everything most of what you need but none of what it does is the best of what is available.

I think there is a place for both approaches although the large monolith of the VLE has to adapt to still be of use during the next 5 year.  Over the next few weeks i’m going to be discussing how we can use the VLE as a hub for teaching and take the best of what is out there and combine the advantages of Moodle or GC to help both students and staff deliver a truly rich eLearning experience.



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