In recent months I have had numerous discussions about what the differences are between a Virtual Learning Environment, a Learning Gateway and a Learning Platform. Other conversations I have had is ‘What should I name my environment?’ So what is the difference?
A Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool that can assist you in your lessons from assigning a piece of work to it being a whole topic or course.
With past experience I have used SharePoint Learning Kit as a single file delivery tool. Of course like any other VLEs, SharePoint Learning Kit can assign the documents to the Learner at the selected time and also auto mark the SCORM file quiz you have created. As an addition to SharePoint Learning Kit, there is the SLK Course Builder that lets you assign a whole set of documents over time.
A great example of this was a school I saw using Moodle. Due to the lack of demand they couldn’t get a full class of students for Religious Studies, so they created a course in Moodle where they assigned the work throughout the year. Unfortunately they still had to have 4 lessons throughout the year after school as the exam board required a discussion/debate as part of the curriculum. The great news for the school was that all the students passed the GCSE with an A* to C. The school also decided through consultation with students that they would do all this work after school so it would allow the students to do an additional GCSE if they choose to. This also meant they had another 30 students take the Religious Studies GCSE.
So a Virtual Learning Environment is a teaching tool for your lessons and courses.
Learning Gateway is a framework and management tool for your school. There are no right and wrong ways of creating your Learning Gateway but the idea is to publish all the computer based data through a single portal.
As you can see from the diagram above there are some fundamental elements of a Learning Gateway. The main point from this is that everything is published through a single portal and even though these elements are separate in the image above, they can connect and migrate between each of them.
A Learning Gateway doesn’t have to have a single VLE, it can have multiple solutions. You should have the right products for the right lesson or course you want to deliver to your students. Is there one VLE out there that can do everything for every teacher in their school?
The gradebook feature of your VLE is essential to ensure your parents can access the right data about the progress of their pupils. This can be presented in your VLE along with the parent handbook/policies, recent school newsletters, parent calendar and other information that changes frequently for the parents. They have their own username and password and collect the information that is provided from the school MIS database such as their childs timetable, attendance. This is what the portal layer of the Learning Gateway will present. The gradebook should also allow teaching staff and senior leaders to monitor the progress of students in a simple and easy way.
A Learning Gateway is a document management solution for your school, your policies and management documents but also your curriculum resource that your students can log onto to access.
While working at Great Barr School we implemented a Governors portal which allowed them to have access to a secure email server that they could email sensitive information to each other within a secure environment. During a conversation with the Chair of the Governors he said that they spent the first 2 hours reading documents about students before getting down to business. Having implemented this into the school for these key stake holders, they were able to read a document and make point about them in their collaboration meeting so their meetings became more productive and less time consuming.
A Learning Gateway incorporates all your internal services within your school into a single portal for all your stakeholders.
A Learning Platform is where you take a Learning Gateway to the next step. In the image above we show all the internal services at the schools. A Learning Platform incorporates all the external services as well. These services can come from your Local Authority, the local government or other cloud based solutions. What we want to achieve is a single place of all content, with a single sign on and a centralised search so the end user can find the learning resources they need for that lesson.
We also have a centralised taxonomy so all the schools in that Learning Platform tags their resources with the same term it allows collaboration between schools, staff and students. This is where the search comes into play even more to allow more resources available to the teacher and student.
For an effective Learning Platform a Country wide taxonomy is required so external services from government agencies such as the Department of Education and Partnership for schools have their resources tagged with the same tags as the learning resources within a school. This could be taken into a worldwide education taxonomy allowing international schools to search resources in other country and then adding the different languages for the same work can benefit students who don’t speak English as a their main language.
The image below is taken from a presentation I have given a few times about Learning Platforms. It shows how external services can be integrated into a single user experience that is not just for the schools but potentially for the whole school district. Under pinning all of these is the taxonomy and search.
A fully integrated Learning Platform can only be achieved when all parties have their services available in the Learning Platform in the same standard as all the others.
One key element to a Learning Platform that pulls in many services is the Identity Management Solutions also known as IdM. When a user navigates from the portal layer into the city library website the user should be given an experience that suites their need such as books that are relevant to their age. Many of these systems will require a user to authenticate but this is where the IdM and single sign on solutions plays in and allows students to move seamlessly between websites giving them learning resources they actually need.
Another key element is the MIS (the school Management Information System) as many schools will need to import/export information with the Learning Platform as well as present information to the learner, teacher, school and the local authority. A standard of exporting data is required (such as SIF http://www.sifinfo.or
g) to allow data about the learner to move to and from but also including grades they have achieved in the VLE so they can be used to generate reports and pass these to other agencies. With the correct trend analysis of these grades a user can start to learn individually with the Learning Platform auto assigning work to the learner based on their skill across all subjects, giving the best, individual learning program to a student.
So what is a Learning Platform? A Learning Platform incorporates all internal services and external services a school can use into a single portal allowing the user to search from one location and find the most relevant learning resource they need at that time.