Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings

Virtual Learning Environment image

What the resource is:
This resource is a 28-page Ofsted survey of virtual learning environment (VLE) usage in 35 selected establishments. It also draws upon the reference to VLEs in recent Ofsted reports. The data is from the full range from primary schools through secondary and post-16 to colleges providing adult education. Some of the data comes from the virtual survey of VLEs. Published in 2009, this extensive survey covers the period following the publication of the DfES Harnessing Technology in 2005.


The aims of the resource:
The report identifies and describes the current state-of-play with regard to the nature, distribution and use of VLEs across the education sector. It recommends courses of action to be taken by the DCSF, DIUS, and partner organisations including Becta, Learning and Skills Council and local authorities.


The survey includes a brief history of VLEs, their current deployment, potential infrastructure challenges, patterns of learners' interaction, the motivation for staff use, the involvement of parents and, crucially, the development of content. The report includes two case studies (described below).


There is repeated reference to the open source VLE called Moodle.


Key findings or focus:
The report is prefaced with an executive summary, key findings and recommendations that succinctly and clearly describe the key issues. It is recognised that the deployment of VLE is a new activity that can enhance learning and that does not depend upon the subject being studied.


There is a positive response by learners and their age or type of course determined the nature and amount of their engagement. The negative aspects included the importance, cost and challenge of providing content. For smaller organisations, there is also the cost of infrastructure. Ofsted report that there is little formal quality assurance and learner self-assessment is under-developed.


The first case study describes the use of VLEs in a post-16 establishment. The important focus is upon the staff development strategy and how the use of the VLE is encouraged through provision of a structure programme of blended activities leading to a professionally recognised level 2 award in information technology.


The second case study was of a £50,000 award and development of a Moodle-based cross-authority VLE provision. The report indicates that a significant function is the storage of course materials for learners to download. The system promotes: consistency and quality in those materials, liaison between staff, learner involvement in the production of materials and international collaboration. Concern is expressed regarding staff development.


The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource are high. The report is well-written and presented by a Government organisation; it is endorsed by Ofsted and written by Ofsted employees. This work could be cited in Masters level work and used to underpin further research by HEI staff and trainees.


The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
This text could be used in a number of different ways:


Primary phase trainees could identify and describe the challenges and affordances of VLEs - they will need to imaginatively interpret the observations about secondary practice and identify for themselves the issues. This is likely to only be a fruitful activity for primary trainees with a positive interest in promoting ICT otherwise there may be a focus upon the negative aspects of material development, staff development, infrastructure cost and infrastructure maintenance. The activity could provide solid evidence for Q8 - that they have a creative and constructively critical approach to towards innovation.


14-19 phase trainees could use the first case study as a template to describe the VLE provision in their current placement school/college. By reading the report, they could create an interview schedule or questionnaire to gather data. If working collaboratively, they could pool their results and generate a single composite report. As well as meeting Q8, the activity supports Q14 (pedagogy), Q24 (homework opportunities) and, importantly, Q30 establishing a safe working environment (ref. e-safety) and opportunities for learners to learn out-of-school.


Another activity would be to ask the trainee teachers to examine the findings and reflect upon them in the light of current agendas including personalisation, diversity, inclusion, assessment for learning, e-safety, etc. For example, the statement "saving costs and effort in printing, though an element of this was transferred from providers to learners" (p13) has implications for inclusion and equality of accessibility for all learners.


The relevance to ITE students:
This full report is not efficient reading material to underpin trainees' professional awareness - they are better advised to read general texts on learning to be a teacher. As the focus for a tutor-led activity (see above) it has value. In addition, a trainee with computing, IT or ICT as the focus of their professional or academic writing will find the report a useful source of ideas in the area of VLE implementation and development.


Reviewed by:

Dr John Woollard


VLE, innovation, 14-19, secondary, primary