There has been a lot of discussion and debate over the years about the use of VLEs by learners in institutions. There are problems and issues in providing a standardised virtual learning environment to learners, who are all different and have a variety of needs.
The ability to create a personalised and individualised online learning environment is one of the strengths of the concept of the PLE that has been discussed at length at many different conferences (and even on this blog). One of the challenges though, for learners, in using a PLE is that it requires a level of commitment and skill by learners to create their PLE. Though many learners will have the skills and ability to do this, not all do. The institutional VLE is not a replacement for a PLE, and often will be part of a learner’s PLE.
One way that a VLE could be used as a PLE is to provide each learner with their own VLE that could form the basis of their individual PLE. Familiarity will be there if they have used the institutional VLE and the disadvantages of the standardised vanilla VLE can be avoided as each learner will be able to create an individualised, personalised virtual learning environment. The learner would be able to create areas (courses) to meet their needs and invite other learners to collaborate and share in these areas. Common content could be made available to learners to download and install in their own VLE.
Technically with virtualisation it would be very simple to provide learners with an individual VLE to be used as a PLE. In the past each individual VLE would need an individual server, virtualisation allows multiple servers to be hosted on a single server. Even cloud based services could be used removing the need to host the servers on site.
The individual VLE would not be used in isolation and other tools and services could be plugged into the VLE to support the learner concept of the unique PLE.
There are some challenges, administering a VLE, though simple, may not be in the capabilities of all learners. In these instances, learners may want to share a single VLE for their PLE rather than each have individual VLE. Groups of learners in a single cohort might also want to share. Even all learners in a single institution may decide that a single VLE meets their needs for a PLE rather than having a VLE or PLE each. This then allows the learners to focus on their learning rather than managing a learning environment.
Providing individual VLEs for learners to use as their PLEs can be a challenging process, from a technical, administrative and learning process; but may be the answer in meeting the needs of learners.