“VLEs are crap”

If you work with a VLE and with staff and managers, you may have come across a comment similar to the title of this blog entry, “VLEs are crap”. This comment was quoted on a mailing list I belong to. Going to events I often hear these comments (and even occasionally back at college); they may go onto to talk about very negatively about the VLE. They talk about how learners like wizzy Web 2.0 tools and services like Facebook and YouTube. How they are all digital natives (I know), are part of the Google generation; so the VLE is old, clunky and not for today’s learners…

This view is not that unusual.

The thing is don’t compare the VLE with what you would like it to be, compare it to not having a VLE. The VLE isn’t trying to be perfect, it’s about providing an online or virtual environment that can be used for learning. Yes it can be better, and VLEs have improved over the years, but it isn’t perfection and in life nothing is perfect.

So how do I respond to negativity?

I sometimes use the following…

Educational text books are “rubbish”, students are accustomed to high quality Dorling Kindersley books full of colour pictures.

Educational journals are “a waste of time”, students are accustomed to high quality magazine like FHM, Maxim, Bliss, Closer and Heat; they’re full of colour photographs and bright text.

Educational spaces (ie colleges) are “horrible”, students are accustomed to smelly dark dank rooms that are never tidy… oh wait…

13 thoughts on ““VLEs are crap””

  1. I agree. Our VLE isn’t perfect by any means, but it is much better than not having one. Ours is primary focussed so maybe a little different, but we use it for safe messaging, sharing weblinks and accessing online content. All from one place.

    For techy people, they’d prefer to do it themselves, make a whizzy site or something, but for 99% of the people I train, a VLE is fine for them.

  2. A VLE is not greater than the sum of the parts of the internet.

    Other ways of putting it:


    VLE+Web2 = Epicwin (Um but hold on VLE is web2.. doh.)

    A VLE is not a solution, it is part of a solution. I’m going around schools at the moment explaining it to them. The problem is that companies are still trying to “sell” VLEs and that is great as long as you don’t try to pitch a VLE as the only web2 tool the school will ever need/want/use.

    Even the becta report said a learning platform is exactly that. A platform that should be extended from.

    You could respond with:
    VLEs are as crap as the content that is put on them..
    VLEs are user generated, therefore the user is crap?

    VLEs are sometimes oversold by overzealous sales people usually reselling an open source solution that they don’t contribute back to by top heavy overly sales focused poorly managed companies that are detached from the school.

    The expectation is too high because of this..

  3. James, I think you have hit the nail on the head. A VLE is never the single, fix all miracle cure/tool for learning. I don’t believe anyone (any vendor or reseller) who says it is.

    It should be thought of as a possible agreed start for learning online. Where it helps is that for most people, they can just log into the VLE and get on with the learning. If it didn’t exist, they’d have to spend the first two days of class installing an apache server, deciding which of the 30 blogging tools they should install, and then spending another day a week later, installing an alternative blogging tool and porting the content across, because all their mates are using it instead…

    There is a real value in some cross-institution standard (and I haven’t even started to talk from the lecturer or support staff view).

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a case to be made for learners constructing their own online learning tools (PLEs?) using mash-ups of great new Web 2.0 tools (and probably some trusty Web 1.0 tools too), in the same way that it is healthy to allow people to bring in different pens, pencils, pads of paper, laptops, etc. into a lecture theatre.

    The thing that differentiates these PLE-building individuals are that they are likely to be either postgraduate learners (or people learning independently – possibly as part of their job), and/or their course involves the study and development of Web 2.0 tools. They may be more technically savvy, or just able to operate in a world where they can choose the degree of connectiveness, freer from the requirements of institutional monitoring and audit. Make the most of it whilst you can! But, also worry NOW who to go to when your drive fails, or the web service is pulled because the company goes under. A VLE doesn’t grant you immunity from this scenario, but it does make it more than just your problem!

  4. I’m sure there are all sorts of things you can justify with the “imagine if you didn’t have it” argument. This for example, might be one. But, most people, if they had a choice would rather something a bit better.

    Forget about the “net-gen” students, VLEs are clunky and generally a poor fit for stone-age academics. But that’s not the problem I have with VLEs.

    Information technology is meant to be protean, dynamic and changeable. As an enterprise system, a VLE isn’t protean. It’s not very changeable.

    The problem isn’t that VLEs are crap. The problem is that they are still crap. The difficulties faced in improving them indicate (to me at least) there there’s something wrong.

    Being able to remove the bad is important (e.g. number 10 on this list). Sorry, I just don’t see the value in being able to accept or justify the bad.

  5. I admit I had to look protean up – “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”.
    I’m not sure that’s a feature I’d always expect of a “good” VLE. I think that there is an inherent tension between a VLE that is:
    1. capable of assuming many forms (and I mean more than simple skinning of the GUI)
    2. useful and supportable for a lot of users at the same time
    3. provides some sort of common user experience

    I do agree that there is much work left to do before we get really good VLEs, though perhaps where I differ is I think that we CAN get there!

    1. Malcolm, I agree with you. It is possible to improve.

      It’s just somewhat unlikely given how most institutions treat the VLE. e.g. my institution has recently adopted Moodle. During the training process the “Moodle==open source==flexible” mantra was being repeated many times. Now, post implementation the mantra is “keep it vanilla”. i.e. we can’t modify it, it takes too many resources.

      Given these and other difficulties, I happen to think James’ “imagine life without it” argument as not being all that helpful.

  6. Hi James,

    In my experience people who say VLEs are crap tend to be those who have had one rammed down their throats and been made to feel that teaching without one makes you a bad teacher. In many places VLEs have been implemented and the required training has simply not been provided.

    I happen to think that teaching with one -as well as other, flashier web apps – makes you a better teacher. The difficult thing is though not to sound patronising in the face of entrenched ideas about what education is and how it should be delivered.

    You’re approaching their criticism in the right way by challenging their views and drawing comparisons to other aspects of education which can equally be as contentious. The problem is that often challenge is met with entrenchment of attitudes.

    So, I agree with previous comments, a VLE is only as useful as teachers make it.


    1. I do refer you to the phrase

      I sometimes use the following…

      No one approach will work with the variety of staff I work with.

      I find different tactics and approaches work for different people; all of whom have different excuses reasons for not using the VLE.


  7. I can’t understand why anyone would say that VLEs are crap.

    It’s not the VLE, it’s what you do with it that makes the difference. I work with Moodle, having come from Uniservity.
    It doesn’t matter what t looks like, it doesn’t need to be flashy, the important thing is that’s it’s being used to support learners.

    A teachers page on a VLE should reflect his/her classroom, so saying a VLE is crap would be the same as saying that their classroom is crap.

    All a vle does is provide access to information. How can that be crap?

  8. I have to agree with Alex. My experience with teachers regarding VLE’s has shown me that there is a total lack of know how. When shown interactive content and the ease of uploading software, they are usually amazed and are encouraged to start using it.

    It is a tool specifically for sharing resources across the school and at home. Some may not have as many ‘gadgets’ as others. But I will agree that it is what you do with it that is important.

Leave a Reply