VLE, Learning Gateway or Learning Platform?


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

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.

Learning Platform

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
) 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.

The Next Learning Gateway: Live@edu


There are many email products that could be used for the Learning Gateway but if you ask most people they will say they use Microsoft Exchange.

Microsoft recently released their latest version of Exchange (Exchange 2010) which we will look into further in a few posts time.

Cloud computer is being pushed by many different organisations including Microsoft, BECTA and the IT industry.   I personal read Computing Magazine which arrives every Friday in the post and they have many articles that talk about how businesses are saving large amount of money by using such services as Microsoft Online (BPOS), Windows Azure (Microsoft’s Online web application in the cloud which includes SQL Server – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/).

Many schools are moving to Building School for the Future in the UK which is an education revamp programme to give the school a wonderful new building but also to change the way education works within the school using IT.  This includes a managed services by the successful bidder which includes a hosted solution of the Microsoft Learning Gateway as an example.  The idea is that the IT services are not kept school but kept in a secure data centre somewhere away from the school.  This is the current trend in cloud computer in the education industry.

Microsoft live@edu is a free offering to any school world wide of an email system.  You don’t have to pay anything.


There is no limit to the number of mailboxes you can have so all students and staff can have one.  Universities are also taking live@edu as their default mail client as they are seeing the cost savings from this such as University of Ulster and Washington State University.

Here is a video from their experience

From this you will not have to buy a 64 bit server to host the Exchange on, the Exchange license or the Client Access Licenses for the product. 

Live@edu also takes advantage of some the other free offerings from Microsoft Live.  These includes Live Profiles allowing for each person to have their own profile and blog.  You can also take advantages of Microsoft Workspace but they best of the lot is SkyDrive.

When you register with live@edu not alone do you get a 10GB mailbox but also 25GB of free storage space to store you data.  No school can offer that amount of storage without a large budget for storage.

In the future Live@edu is going to become integrated with an online offering of SharePoint 2010.  This is very exciting but there are not many details available.  Have a look at this http://liveatedu.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!C76EAE4D4A509FBD!1659.entry.

Here are a few screen shots from the demo school I have just setup.

Here are a few points

  • Presence Information
  • Looks like Exchange 2010



The Next Learning Gateway: Virtualisation


As we start to look at the next version of server products I wanted to touch on Microsoft latest version of Hyper-V.

So what is HyperV/Virtualisation?

Released as a updated feature in Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V provides virtualisation of your operating systems on a single box.  A single physical machine can host multiple machines allowing you to take advantage of hardware, how ever you do you need a decent box.


The base machine has a large amount of hard disk space to store multiple operating systems and will require a decent dual core or recommended quad core.  As you build each machine it take the more and more RAM from the machine so make sure you have enough for each virtual machine.

From a multi server point of view you can store all your data on a SAN (data store) and each host machine connects to the SAN to get the data it requires to run the operating systems.  With the features of HyperV should one of your physical machine lose power, another machine will start hosting the operating system.

With the example below the virtual machines OS is stored in VHD files on a SAN.  The physical servers connect to those files through SCSI or iSCSI to connect a LUN.  Then the physical machine start your virtual machines and you can connect to them to deliver you services in the Learning Gateway.


I’ve recent got my hands on a brand new laptops which was spec’d for me to run multi virtual machines at a time for development.  I’m currently installing the machine with Hyper V version 2 and its all going well.  I’ll keep you updated with the progress.


Content for the Learning Gateway


I recently spoke at an event about engaging users in your Learning Gateway with the right content in the right areas.

You have content everywhere.  Don’t think that content is just a Word document or SCORM files you have brought from a content supplier.  Content is everywhere, it changes everyday, the school newsletter, the latest year 10 football team win or the gossip around the staff room, your MIS system.

Below is a table I showed in a recent presentation and how you can list all your content. 

Down the side of the table you list all the content from around the school while at the top you list the areas of where you can present this information.


If we evaluate this we can now see where we can put that content both within the Learning Gateway and external sources such as the school website, Twitter and Facebook.


From the table above we can now see where we can advertise that the school football team beat the local rival school, and of course you want to share that will the outside world.

Looking at it from another angle, when you have filled in this table you can see what content needs to be on your website and the different areas of the Learning Gateway.


The 10 examples of content above are very few that you could have.  Each teaching department could fill something like this in and get at least 20 different ideas of what content to deliver and where.

The next Learning Gateway: Client Summary


Over the last 2 blog posts we have looked at the client side of the next Microsoft Learning Gateway.

Since the posts Windows 7 has hit yet another milestone and the final one before general release on the 22nd October.  Windows 7 RTM (Release To Manufactories) is the full version of the operating system and has been given to the likes of Samsung and HP for them to prepare for general release on their hardware.

If you are MSDN or TechNet subscriber you will already have access to Windows 7 RTM.  Schools should also be able to download Windows 7 from Volume Licensing as well.

I have installed both 32bit and 64bit versions onto my computers and netbooks.  My work desktop runs a 64bit version while my Samsung N120 runs the 32bit version.  My home PC is now also running Windows 7 64bit which I am delighted about as this has made the machine even quicker as it was Windows Vista 32bit and I can run more virtual machines now for testing the new software for the next Learning Gateway.

Here are a few links that you might find useful

Windows 7

Office 2010

Microsoft Semblio

Following this post we’ll start looking at some of the server based programs such as Windows Server 2008 R2, Exchange 2010, Office Communications Server 2007 R2 and SharePoint 2010.

The next Learning Gateway: Office 2010 / Semblio


At the recent Microsoft World Partner Conference in America, Microsoft announced they had reached the Technical Preview milestone of the Office 2010 suite.

So what is Technical Preview?
Technical Preview is also known as beta 1, so Microsoft have now got Office 2010 suite to beta 1.  Which is great but what’s different, do we need another version, is that annoying Ribbon still at the top (I hear your cry…)?

Well yes that Ribbon is still there and I love the ribbon even more now its in all the Office applications.  So Outlook and Publisher have the ribbon along with OneNote. 


Groove has now turned into SharePoint WorkSpaces 2010, and will become not just a document collaboration product but also a offline tool for your SharePoint lists and libraries.  Now students will be able to take any announcement that have gone on in classes sites and view them at home should they have no internet connection. 


Out of all the 2010 products my favourite feature so far is the ‘Quick Steps’ which is available in the middle of the ribbon in Outlook.  You can create rules that once clicked will open new emails with certain people in the To: field or will move the emails highlighted to the folder you want.  I found that it even created some of the ‘Move to’ folders for me as it recognized what I was doing.  This has saved me so much time!


Another one of my favourite features is the auto preview available in all the products.  What I mean by auto preview is when you have pasted some text into an email you find that it changes font, size according to where you have copied it from.   Well when you have copied the text or table or what ever it is, you get an option to keep source formatting, match destination or plain text.  Well when you hover over of the each you now get a auto preview of the text so it gives you a preview of what it will look like in the document, spreadsheet, presentation etc


Microsoft Semblio

Microsoft Education team have also been developing a product that will;

“…create rich, immersive multimedia learning material that’s highly interactive and fosters exploratory learning that teachers can customize, and that promotes collaboration.”

Its built on a platform model so can be used for both developers in Visual Studio and for teachers.  How this is done, we don’t know yet, but again, a quote taken from the Semblio site,

“But Semblio is not just a developer tool; it will also include an assembly tool, released with the next version of Microsoft Office”

Other than that we don’t know much about Semblio.  We look forward to seeing more of this.

For more information on Semblio, visit


The next Learning Gateway: Windows 7



I first got to play with the next Microsoft operating system a few days before BETT (January 2009) when the public beta was made available.

Windows 7 is a vast improvement over Vista, improved speed, file transfer and other new features.

As my mobile laptop I have a HP Mininote 2133 with Windows 7.  When I brought it, it came with a Vista Business and I hate to say it – but I had to downgrade to Windows XP.  I was finding really bad performance on Vista when doing general day to day work in Outlook, Word and browsing the internet.  I installed Windows 7 beta and found that it was faster than Windows XP. When Windows 7 RC was released I installed this again and still running it now.  I also have Office 2010 Technical Preview and it still runs great.

My Windows Experience Index is 1.0

  • Processor: 1.2 – VIA C7-M Processor 1.2GHz
  • Memory (RAM): 3.4 – I have 2GB RAM
  • Graphics: 1.0
  • Gaming graphics: 1.0
  • Primary hard disk: 5.1 – 120GB

Not the best but this doesn’t matter any more in Windows 7 – its fast enough for me.

Networking Speed
I remember watching a few videos over at http://us.gizmodo.com where they showed the difference between transferring files over the next.  Microsoft have reported that this is again quicker in Windows 7

There is a new version of Microsoft Paint.  In Office 2007 Microsoft released the new ribbon.  I personally like it but a lot of people I have spoken to about it don’t.  Well the good news for me anyway is that they have started to include the ribbon in some of the Windows 7 apps.  Paint is one and so is WordPad.  We’ll talk more about the Ribbon when we have a look at Office 2010.


Again WordPad has the ribbon


So what is the latest regarding Windows 7? Well the good news is that it going to RTM (Release to Manufactures) which kind of means it done, finished and full release is on the 22nd October 2009.  Keep an eye on your MSDNs, TechNets and Licensing pages with Microsoft as you will see it appear during August for you to implement into your school.

Alan Richards over at Westhatch school in Essex is doing some great work with his IT infrastructure.  Alan has been keeping an blog about some of his work and will also deploying Windows 7.  Keep an eye on his blog – I’m sure he will be doing a post or two about his work.

What coming in the next version of the Microsoft Learning Gateway…


Over the next 12 months Microsoft have some major releases of their main applications.  Many of these build up the elements of the Microsoft Learning Gateway.

Over the coming month we’ll have a look at the different products that are currently available for beta and a look at what is yet to come.

Here is a list of things that are coming from both the client and service side


  • Windows 7
    • The new Microsoft operating system replacing Microsoft Vista.  I’ve played with both the Beta version and RC and they are great.  General release is on 22nd October but keep an eye open on the news for RTM and release to Volume Licensing. 
  • Office 2010
    • The Technical Preview (beta 1) is currently out there for people who registered.  I don’t know if everyone got a copy but I’m liking the custom ribbon on all the apps.  I mainly use Outlook and I’m like the new features.
    • No date yet for release


  • SharePoint 2010
    • Being the main product in the Learning Gateway I am always looking for the latest news via twitter or on the newsgroup about SharePoint 2010.  You can see a sneak preview of SharePoint 2010 over at http://sharepoint.microsoft.com.  There are 3 videos at the moment, an overall view of SharePoint 2010, an IT Pro and an Dev video.
    • If you do use twitter, I search for SharePoint 2010 but Microsoft recently said the official hashtag for SharePoint 2010 is #SP2010.
    • Again no release date but if you want to know more information about SharePoint 2010 Microsoft say attend the Official Microsoft SharePoint Conference later in the year http://www.mssharepointconference.com/
  • Exchange 2010
    • Exchange 2010 went to Public Beta a few months ago and you can download this from http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/2010/en/us/try-it.aspx .  Not many people know that Exchange 2010 (codenamed Exchange 14) has been used by Microsoft for about 2 years now.  Live@edu has over 2 million accounts that run Exchange 2010 and a lot of other Microsoft mail services available online are also Exchange 2010.  This tell me that if Microsoft are prepared to use it externally to customers, the product is in a very good state in this first public beta
  • TMG
  • Office Communications Server 2007 R2
    • Released in February 2009, Office Communications 2007 R2 increase the functionality of the original 2007 product with its phone system.  I recently had a Microsoft employee in my office who made a call with his OCS and used the internet to connect to Microsoft HQ before then making the call externally.
  • Office Web Apps

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll take a deeper look into each of these product and how they can be used from an education point of view and how they fit into the next version of the Microsoft Learning Gateway 

Announcing the 'Learning Gateway User Group'


Over the past few months I’ve been working on building a new user group.


The Learning Gateway User Group is a new community site for education schools/organisations to blog about what they are doing, share their experiences in the class room and their technical knowledge with the Microsoft Learning Gateway.  Of course it’s not all Microsoft which is why its more known as the Learning Gateway as you can integrate a lot more than just Microsoft products like library systems and VLEs.

Take a visit to the site, register yourself as a user and get involved in the new community


If you are school, college, company or individual and wish to blog on this community site please let me know

Education Discussion Panel at SharePoint Best Practice Conference


Yesterday the lunchtime sessions were announced for the European SharePoint Best Practices Conference in London starting on the 6th April.

Andrew Woodward (Blog, Twitter) and myself will be having a panel discussion on SharePoint in Education.  Come and join the conversation and get involved as we talk all things SharePoint and Eductation.

If your not registered yet make sure you do and get yourself there for a great 3 days of none stop SharePoint.