What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Types & Advantages

What is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? Types & Advantages

Pandemic lockdowns have popularised the term Online Learning, which was usually used to describe the shift of school classes from in-person learning to a virtual classroom. Online learning, also known as eLearning, has become a norm in educational institutions as students and teachers conduct classes in remote settings. 

However, the virtual learning environment is not limited to the classroom setting. You can bring a virtual learning experience to your workplace through a series of e-learning resources and course management tools to reach employees working in remote areas. 

Here’s how you can utilise the virtual space for corporate training:

What is a Virtual Learning Environment?

A Virtual Learning Environment, or VLE, refers to a digital space where learners and educators conduct online courses. Educators may deliver course materials through video presentations, audio recordings, virtual classes or other digital means. VLE gives students access to education no matter where they are.

VLEs are part of the broader concept of e-Learning as students and teachers use various multimedia resources and communication tools to access and deliver educational materials. Virtual learning environments are designed to support teaching and learning through optimised digital classrooms that may include learning management systems (LMS) and other educational technology to encourage learning. 

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) vs Learning Management System (LMS)

Modern VLEs and LMSs are often difficult to differentiate. Modern systems are far more comprehensive and often include a wide variety of features that could allow them to be classified as both Virtual Learning Environments and Learning Management Systems. However, the key differences are based on their primary focus, functionality, and typical usage contexts.

The focus of a VLE is on creating a comprehensive and interactive online space conducive to teaching and learning. It emphasises the educational experience, simulating a classroom environment in a digital setting. An LMS is more focused on the administrative and management aspects of delivering education and training. It emphasizes tracking, reporting, and managing the logistics of the learning process.

VLEs typically include tools for content delivery, communication (like forums and chats), collaboration, and interactive activities. It’s designed to engage students and facilitate various forms of learning activities. LMSs Include functionalities for enrolling students, tracking their progress, managing course content, administering assessments, and generating reports. It often has more robust tools for managing large numbers of learners and integrating with other systems.

VLEs are more commonly used in academic settings like schools and universities, where the focus is on replicating the classroom experience online and enhancing learning through digital means. LMSs’ are widely used in both academic and corporate settings. In businesses, it’s often used for training purposes, professional development, and compliance training.

The 3 Types of Virtual Learning Environments

There are three types of virtual learning environments: Synchronous, Asynchronous and Hybrid. The main difference between the three types is the level of engagement between instructors and learners as they conduct a live-streamed, pre-recorded or mixed course structure.

1. Synchronous Virtual Learning

Synchronous VLE focuses on digital, live-streamed classes to deliver learning material. This typically provides a higher level of engagement between students and teachers as they can interact virtually in real time. Students can get instant feedback from their instructors, while instructors can assess the abilities of their students as they progress through the course.

The synchronous learning environment is what we normally see in online classrooms. Teachers and students would log into virtual chat rooms for their classes. It is very similar to in-person classroom settings where students rely on the instructor to learn the course content. 

Synchronous learning is ideal for individuals who prefer real-time teaching and consistent pacing. It also provides a more hands-on experience for smaller groups as students can interact with each other to collaborate.

live classes in virtual learning environment

2. Asynchronous Virtual Learning

The asynchronous virtual learning environment involves pre-recorded courses for students to access on their own pace. Educators and students connect in VLE platforms through messaging systems or discussion forums, but course content is delivered as pre-built lectures. While this type of VLE limits collaboration, it is ideal for learners who prefer to study on their own time. 

Most VLE platforms catered towards higher education offer asynchronous learning to students, especially for professionals who may not have the same availabilities as their instructors. Asynchronous learning environments allow students and instructors to conduct classes despite time differences and availability schedules. 

At the end of the course, students often undergo assessments to evaluate their learning progress. VLE platforms typically have built-in assessment tools for educators to provide quizzes to test their students’ learnings. They may also engage with their students through communication elements to address and questions, inquiries or concerns. 

3. Hybrid Virtual Learning

The hybrid learning setting offers a mix livestream classes and pre-recorded lectures. This type of VLE is ideal for those who want to customise their learning process while maintaining the structured learning environment that real-time classes provide. 

Instructors may post video lectures, presentations and other course material for their students to learn before or after live virtual classes. They may also conduct assessments through synchronous or asynchronous settings depending on the teaching style of the instructor or the students’ learning preferences. 

The hybrid learning environment offers both customisation and hands-on learning opportunities to students. Many VLE platforms offer hybrid VLE as a managed learning environment for students and instructors to design the way they conduct the courses.

Pros and Cons of Virtual Learning Environments

There are advantages and disadvantages to the virtual learning environment. Depending on the preferences and resources available to the learner, VLE may or may not be the best choice for their learning environment. 

Here are some of the pros and cons of VLE:

Advantages of VLE

Accessibility

The main driver of virtual learning environments is accessibility. Learners that do not have the resources or time to attend in-person classes can still get proper education through virtual learning. VLE is ideal for reaching learners who may have mobility issues, work remotely or have other restrictions that make it challenging for them to attend physical classes.

Similarly, instructors can easily access their students’ learning progress through a convenient learning management system that consolidates their learners’ data. Instructors can adjust their teaching methods accordingly without having to deal with the challenges of in-person classes.

Cost-effective

e-Learning courses are often cost-effective, particularly for organisations that aim to train large groups of learners. With just one VLE platform, instructors can reach multiple students in different areas. Platforms also have group plans for large teams, making VLE a more cost-effective solution to learning compared to physical classes that need rooms and equipment.

Completion Rates

Online learning results in higher completion rates among learners. Because learners can study course material on their own time, they are more likely to follow through with completing the course. This personalised content management approach allows learners and instructors to optimise their learning journeys.

Disadvantages of VLE

Lack of Collaboration

Virtual worlds are different from real-life and the same is true for VLE and physical learning. In a virtual learning environment, learners have limited opportunities to collaborate and socialise with their peers. Some students may even find difficulties in connecting with other learners to discuss lessons and tests. This lack of collaboration may hinder an individual’s social development and collaboration skills.

distraction when using virtual learning environment

Distractions

VLE can be conducted from anywhere, which is a big advantage. However, learners may find it difficult to focus on the course material when there are distractions present in their environment. Unlike a classroom setting where distractions can be controlled and removed, learning from different locations can bring disruptions for learners, preventing them from immersing into the subject.

Technical Issues

Because VLE relies heavily on digital aspects, any technological issues may cause disruptions in class. Unstable internet connections, platform glitches and device issues can all negatively contribute to a learner’s progress. 

How is VLE Applied in Workplace Training?

VLE is often used in an educational context, mostly for schools and universities. However, higher education institutions also regularly conduct classes in a virtual learning environment, such as delivering corporate training and vocational courses through online platforms. 

Here’s how VLE is applied in the workplace:

VET

Vocational Education and Training, or VET, is where students go to learn the tricks of the trade. VET prepares students for the workplace as it teaches them the skills and knowledge they need to perform jobs. Many VET institutions have adopted a distance learning approach, which makes use of a virtual learning environment to deliver courses to students anytime, anywhere. 

Frontline Training

Frontliners are often scattered across various locations that the organisation operates in. Yet, they are required to know and understand standard health and safety protocols at work. VLE enables organisations to conduct on-the-job training of frontline workers without interrupting their regular operations, optimising the way their employees learn. 

training frontline workers with vle

Deskless Workplace Training

Deskless workers rarely have stagnant offices to work in and are often deployed in different locations. VLE helps the organisation maintain consistency in their workplace training for deskless workers as they can deploy the same training content to employees in various locations. Training managers can view the progress of their employees through one platform, enabling them to conduct standardised and unbiased assessments. 

Digitising Workplace Learning with VLE

Virtual learning environments have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on the abilities of learners. Some learners retain knowledge best with virtual learning as they have control over their learning journeys, while others may not have the right focus or preference for a virtual setting.

When digitising your workplace learning, it is important to understand the needs of your workforce. VLE can be limited in terms of teaching through hands-on experience, but it can also be a key tool for you to disseminate information throughout your entire organisation. Consider accessibility constraints, cost-efficiency and social learning issues when deciding to modernise your training to achieve the best possible learning outcomes.

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