Good practice Reflections

VLEs – Value, Learning and Engagement?

Zac Gribble shares some early findings while piloting VLE reviews. What is the role of the VLE and does an institution value it, use it to its full potential and how does this impact on student experience?

One area that the Student Experience team have been looking at is the role of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in universities, colleges and the skills sector.  There are many organisations looking at their current VLE, with an eye to the future and assessing where they are with their use as a digital platform.

students working online
Students accessing their VLE

Value is a very useful word when assessing a VLE and needs to be viewed from a variety of perspectives.  This poses a number of questions to consider, such as:-

  • Do staff feel it is worth their time to upload or create content?
  • Why should staff invest time to learn new skills in creating quizzes or other interactive resources?
  • Do students value the VLE as a support to their studies? Does the VLE enhance learning and offer a ‘valued’ experience?
  • Does the organisation as a whole value having an online environment for their learning content?

Many organisations take pride in their buildings and surrounding areas.  Life on campus is aimed at providing a good student experience.   We would encourage organisations to take the same pride in their digital environments and apply the same principles and vision.

In our pilots so far, we have found in some institutions, quite a distinct difference in that ‘value’.  If you would like to know more about how Jisc can help you review your VLE, when the service goes live, you can contact us via our consultancy page

We have found that while most students do value 24/7 access to learning material, especially for revision or missed sessions, they do have an expectation of what a system can provide.  Social media presents non-stop fresh material and engaging content.  Responsive platforms and notifications come as standard.  How does a VLE compete for attention?

Devices in use by students
Students use different devices to access the VLE

A lot of the ‘value’ will come from the user experience: navigation, ability to use on mobile devices, speed and so on. But we have also heard about how content is also very relevant.

Where the students have been unanimous in their appreciation for an online connection to their studies, some staff have shown less enthusiasm about what role the VLE currently plays.  All the main platforms on the market are capable systems but the fall back to uploading documents is the preferred option.  These being either already created or can be done in applications already familiar.  So, a level of confidence and capability are key factors in engaging staff in creating content to enhance learning further.

It is obvious that many of the staff we have spoken to understand what a VLE ‘could’ achieve, but the common answer for not engaging with it is ‘time’ or a lack thereof. This brings the ‘value’ element to the attention of  senior management.  How important is it to the senior management to provide the training and time for the staff to gain skills and produce a more engaging and enhanced experience?

One thing we feel is an important output from the review is not all about answers, but to also provide the right questions an organisation should ask when thinking about vision, strategy and looking at their VLE and how it meets their expectations now and in the future.

By Zac Gribble

Subject Specialist - Digital Practice (platforms). I've worked in HE for over 10 years as a developer and leader in eLearning before joining Jisc. From working with students through to senior management, my passion for digital tools and user/student experience has played a huge role in this adventure. I'm a big user of technology in music as well as learning, design and developing. I'm just as happy to chat about sounds, microphones and hearing through spine conductivity for drummers!

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