In the first part of this series, we focused on the impact of digital textbooks on education, namely, how digital textbooks increase learning while reducing costs. Part two of this series focuses on the VLE, a precursor to digital textbooks. VLE stands for Virtual Learning Environment, although it is also referred to as eLearning environment or LMS (Learning Management System) in North America. Virtual Learning Environments can be used either to replace or supplement physical learning: attending lectures in a traditional classroom setting. Today, virtual learning environments have become a core component of distance learning. As a replacement for physical learning, the VLE will contain the entire course, including videos that may be used in lieu of lectures, required and optional reading materials, assignments, discussion forums, and more. The VLE is thus both a way to attend the course as well as participate: students can interact with one another, and may also submit questions to the course administrator. As a supplement to physical learning, the VLE will often contain assignments, discussion forums, and may even include short quizzes. The VLE may also contain further information about course topics, outside of what is expressed in the textbook or covered in lecture. The VLE is an excellent way to encourage student participation, as well as active engagement in a course. Rather than passively reading a textbook, when using a VLE students can benefit from the interactive aspects: diagrams and figures, answering questions about the material, etc. This interactivity has been shown to increase student retention and comprehension of course information (Source: Sankey 2010). The VLE may be bemoaned in distance learning as a negative alternative to physical learning. However, the VLE is simply the natural descendent from previous forms of distance learning: for example, via the post. As early as 1883 the Correspondence University of Ithaca, New York was founded, which celebrated distance learning purely via the postal service (Source: Bower and Hardy 2001). In 1954, B.F. Skinner developed his ‘teaching machine’ which allowed for programmed learning and thus self-paced study, a sort of primitive VLE (Source). By the end of the 2000’s, VLEs were a part of nearly every educational curriculum in the United States, and by 2015 one would be hard-pressed to find an institution without a VLE. Benefits of Virtual Learning Environments include:

  • Increased communication
  • Infinite resource hub for instructors
  • Links to outside sources and embedded content
  • Podcasts and videos
  • Increased interactivity and participation
  • Self-paced learning (Source: BBC Active)

Due to the ever-adaptive nature of the VLE, its use in distance learning and as a supplemental learning resource is sure to stick around for years to come. This is the second part of our series: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping Education. The next post will discuss the importance of internet connectivity, on- and off-campus. [enhancing_learning]