Do VLEs actually de-personalise learning?

Train crashA well-known consultant* and I have been corresponding about the approaching train-wreck that is English schools’ generally panicked attempts to embrace VLEs ahead of the government deadline. He said:

It occurred to me that Yacapaca could do a great VLE lookalike if you could upload (as SCORM compliant zips) into a Course structure…

It is certainly true that we could do that technically, and it’s certainly quite tempting to stick Chalkface’s snout in the VLE trough when there is so much money being misspent. But we won’t do it, primarily because I still think that SCORM is a giant step backwards for school-age education. Here’s why:

Take a look at a typical SCORM resource being flogged to work in your £10,000/year VLE. Nearly all of them are linear sequences of text to read and pictures to look at, perhaps leavened with a little bit of video. Opportunities to explore and discover are squished by ‘instructional design’.

As teacher, your VLE will show you that the student has started and finished the ‘learning resource’. It won’t tell you how much, if anything was actually learned. Nor if the student was engaged and enthralled or, more likely, turned even further off formal education by the whole ghastly experience.

So in what way is this personalised learning? Proponents would argue that if the teacher selected from easy/medium/difficult versions of the resource, that counts as personalisation. Matching the reading level to the student is no bad thing, but personalised learning it ain’t. Any good teacher knows that personalised learning is matched first and foremost to the student’s current enthusiasms.

Let’s consider an alternative. Web quests have been around for a decade now. Web quests guide the learner but do not over-prescribe. Web quests work beautifully with ePortfolios, and I certainly will be integrating them into Yacapaca this year.

Postscript: If you are wondering why SCORM is such a gross mismatch for school-age education, just look at its history.

SCORM is a specification of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, which comes out of the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense. Wikipedia

Yup, it’s a military training system. And soldiers, as we well know, aren’t paid to think. Contrast this with web quests, which are based solidly in student-centred pedagogy.

A real WebQuest requires higher level thinking, not simply summarizing. This includes synthesis, analysis, problem-solving, creativity and judgment. WebQuest manual.

From which basis do you want to be teaching your students?

* I’d better not name him as he has to say nice things about VLEs to some of his clients.


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One response to “Do VLEs actually de-personalise learning?”

  1. Hi Ian,

    Back in 2002, at an IMS meeting in Sheffield, I asked Dan Rehak, one of the architects of SCORM about it’s applicability for schools. He was quite adamant that the education model inherent within SCORM doesn’t fit everyone (including schools). You can see the CETIS report here:

    To be honest, I find it hard to know of many situations (other than those requiring “instruction”) where SCORM-based content is an appropriate model. You are quite right to say that the reports it gives you tell you little useful information.

    I agree that webquests are a much more appropriate way forward. Whilst a consultant supporting schools on one particular VLE (back in 2002/3) I emphasised the webquest approach as something that teachers could easily build, rather than relying on pre-packaged “content” that sat inside the VLE.

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