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Virtual Learning Environments

This section is the third of four sections designed to introduce academics and students to the potential use of the Internet as a teaching and research resource, the other three being: Teaching Online, The WWW as a Teaching tool, and Finding Resources. Other related pages include Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Knowledge Management, Teleworking, Distributed Learning, and Virtual Reality.

The Internet has revolutionized the delivery of teaching and training, and in the past few years the number and type of institutions making use of new technologies to deliver training and teaching has greatly expanded in some parts of the world (particularly the English-speaking countries, and Europe). Virtual Learning Environments bring together a range of tools that have been used for some time to support distance learning: email and discussion boards, MOOs (multi-user, object-oriented discussion), file exchange, the Web, computer-aided assessment. A key new feature is the support for managing student information, and creating personalized working spaces. Additionally, many VLEs contain basic authoring tools to enable academics with limited Web experience to place teaching resources online. Many VLEs are now available, with some or all of the features listed above.

Virtual Learning Environment software

EC funded projects

Many projects funded by the EC are developing virtual learning environments:

JISC Projects on Virtual Learning Environments and Infrastructure

The UK's Joint Information Systems Committee is funding four projects exploring and developing virtual learning environments for higher and further education. Most projects started in late 2000, and run for 2 - 3 years.

UCISA Web Awards

The UCISA Web Awards 2001 had a section for 'Managed Learning Environments'. Eight entries from UK universities were entered.

Course Server Software for Online Teaching

Roger Atkinson, Murdoch University, maintains a list of links to VLE software and services, and reviews of some of these tools.

Virtual universities and learning portals

See also the El.pub topic on Teaching Online

Learning Portals (compiled by brandon-hall.com)

The number of companies offering multimedia resources for training and education is growing daily. Traditional universities are expanding their services to offer online learning, though private and government-sponsored organizations dominate the training and lifelong learning markets. Brandon Hall is compiling a list of learning portals - as of August 2000 this site listed 37 portals (mostly delivering teaching in English). Business models vary greatly.

VCampus Corporation

VCampus Corporation is based in the USA, though provides a platform to enable businesses, academic institutions and other large organizations to organize and deliver courses in a flexible fashion. It particularly supports distance learning situations. VCampus combines a virtual learning environment with middle ware, enabling student's performances to be tracked.

Wallenberg Global Learning Network

The WGLN was established in 1999, with funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg and Marcus and Marianne Wallenberg Foundations. It is a collaboration between the Stanford Learning Lab, Stanford University (USA) and the Swedish Learning Lab (the latter is a collaboration between Uppsala University, the Royal Technical Institute, and the Karolinska Institute). It is carrying out research on how new technologies can assist learning across the globe.

Reviews of learning environments

JCIEL - JISC Committee for Integrated Environments for Learners

JCIEL evaluates tools and resources to support student learning and support. Its report Requirements for a Virtual Learning Environment is available online (01/08/2000).

Learning Environment Matrix (pdf file). The Education Coalition (2000).

This is a useful, tabulated summary of the main features and functionality of 21 learning environments. TEC also make available on their Web site other evaluations and articles on learning styles.

A Framework for Pedagogic Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments. Britain, S. & Liber, O. JTAP .

While many VLEs are now available, at varying prices, little research has been carried out on the pedagogic principles shaping individual VLEs, and how organizations and academics can most effectively use these new tools for the development and delivery of teaching. Britain and Liber use Laurillard's 'conversational framework' (Laurillard 1993) as a starting point, though expand on it to cover the teaching of groups of students. They also present methods for identifying organizational changes required in order to make use of VLEs.

Further resources

Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is published by the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, and is freely available online. The journal has articles and case studies on CMC and virtual learning environments from around the world.

Copyright and Distance Education: A Developer's Toolkit. Swales, C. The Commonwealth of Learning (2000). This report gives guidance on international and national copyright as it applies to distance learning resources. The guide covers six areas: the basics of copyright; copyright and distance education; international conventions and national legislation; legal and financial aspects of copyright; institutional implications and procedures; other media.

The Development of Virtual Education: A Global Perspective. Farrell, G. The Commonwealth of Learning (1999). This reports on an international study of virtual education, funded by the British Department for International Development. It provides a valuable snapshot of education developments for many parts of the world: Canada, the USA, the Caribbean; Latin America, Europe, Africa, Indian subcontinent, East and Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Educational Technology and Society, journal of the International Forum of Educational Technology and Society, and the IEEE Learning Technology Task Force (ISSN: 1436-4522). This journal is published quarterly, and available freely online. Its scope is broad, and caters for academics seeking to incorporate new technologies into their teaching as well as educational technologists and related specialists. Volume 3(3) (July 2000) focused on online collaborative learning environments.

EDUCAUSE Quarterly and EDUCAUSE Review are both published by EDUCAUSE. EDUCAUSE Quarterly is rich in case studies and evaluations of the use of C&IT in teaching, research and management in higher education; EDUCAUSE Review covers similar ground, but in a more discursive fashion. Both focus on USA events and practices.

eLearning: The Engine of the Knowledge Economy. Ruttenbur, B.W., Spickler, G.C. & Lurie, S. eLearning Industry Report, Morgan Keegan/The Masie Center. (July 2000). pdf file. This report explores business models for e-learning, particularly within the USA, for corporate, academic and lifelong learning. It is aimed at investors, helping them to identify those companies that are most likely to prosper in this increasingly competitive environment.

Quality on the Line: Benchmarks for Success in Internet-Based Distance Education. The Institute for Higher Education Policy/The Masie Center. (April 2000). pdf file.The IHEP evaluated online distance learning courses provided by six higher education institutions (in the USA), to identify those benchmarks that were essential to ensuring quality in the management and delivery of learning. Their research concludes that most of the benchmarks established for Web-based distance learning in individual institutions are essential for ensuring quality; an annotated list is provided.

Please note that this page was authored during April 2001, and apart from a few minor amendments since that date has remained as it was. Therefore some of the links may have changed or no longer link to the resources indicated. Please contact the webmasters@elpub.org concerning broken links and he will attempt to direct you to a suitable alternative link. (January 2003)

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