Virtual vendors 'fall short'

April 18, 2003

Virtual learning environment vendors do not provide enough facilities to meet the teaching and learning needs of further and higher education, UK e-learning specialists from more than 40 universities said last week, writes Pat Leon.

In a debate organised by Oxford University Learning Technologies Group at the Oxford Union, most academics backed the view that institutes were rushing to buy commercial computer systems that were pedagogically poor and expensive to maintain.

Stuart Lee, head of the Oxford group, said there was disquiet about the use of off-the-shelf e-learning products at the expense of home-grown VLEs.

Many learning technologists believe that commercial VLEs restricted access to different teaching and learning styles.

There is growing interest in developing "open-source" software that allows easier customising, and enables users to look at how others prepare courses.

This will be an underlying issue that suppliers attending events such as next month's World Education Market conference and exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal, will have to address.

Tom Franklin, director of TechLearn, an arm of the Joint Information Systems Committee, which sponsored the colloquium, said that the biggest barrier to using home-grown VLEs successfully was staff development.

If universities bought from big companies, they were more likely to get help. "But if you use your own system, every time you recruit new staff you have got to train them on something they have never seen before," he said.


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