What is a virtual learning environment (VLE) and how have things changed?

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AuthorNick DaviesChief Commercial Officer (CCO)
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Reading Time8 minutes
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Learning technologies are ever-evolving. With the rise in remote and hybrid working, there has been an accelerated shift in organisations searching for the right solution for online learning delivery. You may be familiar with the term virtual learning environment (VLE) and are now exploring solutions for the best virtual learning environment software to use.

Here’s everything you need to know about VLEs and how the right type of learning technology can help drive your L&D strategy forward to help you hit your business objectives.

What is a virtual learning environment (VLE)?

A VLE is an online platform designed to support learning and related administration. It is used to house learning resources such as documents, presentations courses, assessments and links to external websites. Some also include discussion threads, polls and surveys.

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Do you need a virtual learning environment?

‘Virtual learning environment’ is a term more commonly used in education. However, in recent years the VLE in its traditional form has largely been replaced by the learning management system (LMS) and learning experience platform (LXP).

There is a wide range of different LMS, LXP and other learning platforms on the market and it’s important to note that they are not a straightforward rebrand of the VLE—step into any conference or exhibition hall and you’ll soon discover that all of them offer different features and benefits, as described below.

Learning management system (LMS)

The learning management system (LMS) incorporates the ability to create, manage, deliver and track online courses. For example, it might be used to assign induction training programmes or refresher training, so that progress can be tracked and learning retention assessed in a scored test. The focus, as its name suggests, is primarily on learning management.

Learning experience platform (LXP)

The learning experience platform (LXP) is designed to go beyond just mandatory compliance training and empowers learners to take charge of their own development with adaptive learning pathways and user-led experiences. This makes it arguably more suited to the modern learning journey than the LMS and VLE. Other benefits of the LXP include:

  • Content creation and curation capabilities
  • An open system to accommodate external resources
  • The ability for users and subject matter experts to contribute content
  • Discussion spaces for collaborative learning and coaching/mentoring
  • The ability to track learning outside of formal situations (with the help of xAPI)
  • The ability to track soft skills (or ‘intangibles’)
  • The capacity for unmarked, practice assessments

Integrated learning systems

Today’s smarter learning systems such as Thinqi combine the best of both the LMS and LXP to create an integrated solution. This ensures a learner-centric experience without compromising on that efficient management process you need for that all-important compliance training.

Want more guidance on selecting the right choice of learning system for you? Get your free ‘Guide to sourcing a learning system’ and find out how to source the right learning technology first-time.

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How can you adapt your content for online learning delivery?

If you’ve been considering a VLE, the chances are you’ve probably had to think about how to adapt your current content for online learning delivery. It can be tempting to immediately seek ways of using technology to shift your entire offering into the digital world. However, this ‘lift and shift’ approach is detrimental to learner engagement and will lead to a glut of uncategorised, irrelevant content that learners won’t be inspired to sift through.

Instead, perform an audit of the content you plan to make available. Cut it back to what you really need with the philosophy in mind that less is indeed more when it comes to online learning content. What do learners really need to know in order to achieve learning objectives? Does that lengthy article you plan to share really provide value or is it simply an unnecessary extra to make your resources look more substantial? Remove anything that is not immediately relevant.

Think next about your options for learning delivery. Not all of your content will sit neatly into one delivery format, in which case you will need to broaden your options. Consider the following:

  • Online learning modules
  • Assignments
  • Discussion forums
  • Videos
  • Articles
  • Audio content
  • Virtual classroom

Give your learners a reason to keep logging in for more excellent content in a variety of different formats. It’s time to leave ‘death by Powerpoint’ firmly in the past with learning systems of the future.

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How can you encourage social learning and collaboration when learning online?

While collaboration has been possible in VLEs, the majority of it has been at a very basic level in the form of threads. With the rise of communications technologies, learners want and expect more when it comes to peer support and social learning.

Today’s learning technologies enable you to harness collaborative, informal learning and centralise it in one virtual space to be accessed from anywhere at any time. You could start by creating networks of employees and allowing them to join communities of practice pertaining to similar areas of work, themes or disciplines. These should support free-flowing discussion and a safe environment in which to share ideas, multimedia resources, solutions, best practice and suggestions. Remember, the best solutions empower learners to create their own networks to focus on nuances or in-depth analysis, and give them opportunities to invite other colleagues to join the discussion. Knowledge-sharing in this way is conducive to a successful learning culture where everyone is willing and generous with sharing expertise.

Take the Thinqi learning system, for example. Thinqi is xAPI compliant and complete with an inbuilt learner record store. This means it can capture learning in a variety of guises, including collaborative learning activities. A range of social tools and discussion spaces encourages everyday conversation to take place within the digital environment— a vast majority of which is valuable learning material.

For your organisation, this means your employees are working together and sharing expertise in a cost-effective way. Secondly, your employees have a central place to access learning and support, regardless of time or location.

A successful organisation is one that communicates well. Reward any instances of collaborative working and make it part of your company culture—only then will your employees be more inclined to look to others rather than push through tasks alone in a blinkered manner. Awarding digital badges is a great way to boost motivation (you’ve guessed it—today’s learning systems give you the power to do that too).

In summary…

As learning technologies continue to evolve, it’s time to look beyond the VLE of yesterday and start exploring the possibilities of smarter learning technologies. Think about what you really need from a learning system and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What challenges did you expect a VLE to solve and what can today’s technologies do to help you increase your chances of success?
  • What were your stakeholders expecting from a VLE and what further benefits will appeal to them from modern learning technologies?
  • What do you want from a learning technologies provider today to support you for the future? Think about standards, scalability, security and customer support.

In the world of learning technologies, innovation is constant. Why settle for the tired solutions of yesterday when the future of smarter learning is here?

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