"Is this yet another nail in the VLE coffin, and should we now be looking toward more simplified, personalised learning environments based on individual needs?"... some useful reflections on VLEs' worth or otherwise.
I guess I'm a bit torn on this one. I use a VLE as part of my work and my studies. I support and develop others in their use of VLEs and yet I also see them used so statically, so badly, so linearly, so sporadically that they also frequently make me question their worth. I sometimes wonder if the drive to have an online presence is worth it, if that online presence is only going to be an online document dumping group? So often a VLE becomes a place to put all the PowerPoint slides which have already bored your students in their face-to-face lecture (Mann and Robinson, 2009). Where is the educational worth? Where is the research that shows how effective and enhancing a VLE can be? Where are the models of really good VLE practice which can be adapted and adopted as with effective face-to-face teaching? Would you think a VLE was a good thing if you were a student and all it ever did was bung online the things which have already bored you once? Would you want to engage with it further? Would you rather go elsewhere?
VLEs are often packed full of 'worthwhile' tools. But, institutional VLEs can take on an appearance of a kitchen which, while having some useful equipment, has become filled with the kitchen gadgets you buy because you think you can see a value in them (fondue set, avocado slicer, icecream maker, cappuccino frother etc)... but actually, they sit and moulder at the back of the cupboard. More useless than useful. We describe the various bits of a VLE as 'tools', but in reality, we don't want to use 'tools'. We're not bashing together bits of furniture... we're after creative spaces for learning and thinking. "Tool" is a hard word. A working word. A functional word. It's awkward and not terribly aesthetically pleasing. Deep learning can be a soft, woolly, wonderful, messy, exploratory, meandering thing. How do virtual learning environments really encourage that sort of learning?
The VLE concept - a safe space where we get on with learning - sounds like it works and should work. But our online lives aren't like that. Where physically we attend (or used to attend) physical spaces our online world is free of the constraints of requiring a physical presence in a single location... and yet... the VLE seeks to provide us with that constrained world again. It jars. VLEs don't have to be used in that way. Learning doesn't have to be like that.
I don't know whether the VLE is having nails hammered into its coffin as Steve suggests in his blog posting... but... summat's up with it all. Technology should be enhancing and empowering. VLEs, so often, are not. I don't know if blame lies with the VLE or with the culture in which it sits? Change is happening amongst learners, society, cultures... everwhere. What happens if we don't find ways to be creative, to support and exist with that change? Will we look back at VLEs in a few years time and say 'did we really think that was the way to go???'