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A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a Web-based platform for the digital aspects of courses of study, usually within educational institutions. VLEs typically: allow participants to be organised into cohorts, groups and roles; present resources, activities and interactions within a course structure; provide for the different stages of assessment; report on participation; and have some level of integration with other institutional systems. For those who edit them VLEs may have a de facto role as authoring and design environments. VLEs have been adopted by almost all higher education institutions in the anglosphere.
The following are the basic or the main components required for a virtual learning environment or online education curriculum to take place
A VLE may include some or all of the following elements:
A VLE is normally not designed for a specific course or subject, but is capable of supporting multiple courses over the full range of the academic program, giving a consistent interface within the institution and—to some degree—with other institutions using the system. The virtual learning environment supports an exchange of information between a user and the learning institute he or she is currently enrolled in through digital mediums like e-mail, chat rooms, web 2.0 sites or a forum thereby helping convey information to any part of the world with just a single click.
Computerized learning systems have been referred to as electronic educational technology, e-learning, learning platform or learning management system. The major difference is that a VLE and LMS is an application, whereas the Learning Platform share characteristics with an Operating System (or CoursePark Platform) where different educational web based applications can be run on the platform.
The terms virtual learning environment (VLE) and learning platform are generically used to describe a range of integrated web based applications that provide teachers, learners, parents and others involved in education with information, tools and resources to support and enhance educational delivery and management. These terms are broadly synonymous with 'managed learning environments' (MLEs) and 'managed virtual learning environments' (MVLEs).
The applications that form part of these online services can include web pages, email, message boards and discussion forums, text and video conferencing, shared diaries, online social areas, as well as assessment, management and tracking tools.
The term learning platform refers to a range of tools and services often described using terms such as educational extranet, VLE, LMS, ILMS and LCMS providing learning and content management. The term learning platform also includes the personal learning environment (PLE) or personal online learning space (POLS), including tools and systems that allow the development and management of eportfolios.
The specific functionality associated with any implementation of a learning platform will vary depending upon the needs of the users and can be achieved by bringing together a range of features from different software solutions either commercially available, open source, self built or available as free to use web services. These tools are delivered together via a cohesive user environment with a single entry point, through integration achieved by technical standards.
The term LMS can also mean "Library Management System" (which is now more commonly referred to as Integrated Library System, or ILS).
VLE Learning platforms commonly allow:
In principle a learning platform is a safe and secure environment that is reliable, available online and accessible to a wide user base. A user should be able to move between learning platforms throughout their life with no loss of access to their personal data. The concept of a learning platform accommodates a continuously evolving description of functionality changing to meet the needs of the user. Becta publishes Functional Requirements and Technical Specifications that give a more precise description of how a learning platform may be constructed.
Institutions of higher and further education use VLEs in order to:
Most VLEs support the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) as a standard, but there are no commonly used standards that define how the learner's performance within a course can be transferred from one VLE to another.
There are also standards for sharing content such as those defined by the IMS Global Consortium. Local bodies such as in the schools sector in the UK the DCSF via Becta have additionally defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability.
Virtual Learning Environments are not limited only to students and learners in university level studies. There are many virtual learning environments for students in grades K-12. These systems are also particularly suited for the needs of independent educational programs, charter schools and home-based education.
Educators need benchmark tools to assess a virtual learning environment as a viable means of education.
Walker developed a survey instrument known as the Distance Education Learning Environment Survey (DELES), which is accessible to students anywhere. DELES examines instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, personal relevance, authentic learning, active learning, and student autonomy.
Harnish and Reeves provide a systematic criteria approach based on training, implementation, system usage, communication, and support.
There are many open source and proprietary VLEs available for use. On-demand elearning services are also a popular choice because they can be deployed in minutes and do not require instructors and institutions to run their own servers.
Many VLEs are placed on a web server. In a typical VLE there are one or more programs or languages that provides the user (Teacher-Student) interface, and which interacts with a database. For example, a VLE might use PHP as its web language/program, with MySQL as a database.