VLEs in primary schools

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Despite expectations, the use of Virtual Learning Environments across schools and colleges has been slow to take off. Enthusiasm and peer support from teachers and learners should help the initiative develop more widely, says Ofsted.

These are the main findings in the report, Virtual learning environments: an evaluation of their development in a sample of educational settings, published today by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted).

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) allow learners and staff to access a wide variety of learning materials through specially designed computer systems. Resources such as notes and handouts, practice tests, PowerPoint presentations, video clips and links to useful internet sites are commonly found on VLEs.

Sharing good practice

The survey, carried out in a range of settings, including schools, colleges, work-based learning and adult and community learning centres, found that the concept of VLEs was still relatively new, and represented only a small aspect of learning.

Over three quarters of those surveyed who had a VLE showed aspects that were good, however, none had a VLE that covered every subject area comprehensively. Of those surveyed, colleges were found to be making the most use of VLEs, while primary schools the least.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Christine Gilbert, said:

‘Our survey shows that Virtual Learning Environments can help to enthuse learners, by allowing them to reinforce lessons seen in the classroom, catch up on missed work and improve their knowledge.’

‘However, Virtual Learning Environments are still in the early stages of development. More sharing of good practice among peers, collaborative working and further promotion of the benefits to learners will help develop the initiative more widely.’

The best VLEs depended on an enthusiastic teacher, trainer or manager to develop materials and encourage their use among learners and staff. A good grasp of information technology was not critical to a good VLE; they flourished where skilled and confident teachers and tutors treated the VLE as an extension of their normal work.

Further to this, a ‘technology champion’ was usually a key element to a successful VLE. Someone who was able to share good practice in the development of materials and provide support to colleagues was vital in ensuring the VLE was used effectively.

Where VLEs were found to be least effective, the tool was used as a ‘dumping ground’ or storage place for rarely used files, rather than for material that enhanced the face-to-face learning done inside the classroom.