Why did VLEs fail?

Ofsted reports that VLEs, which started coming into schools in 2000, are “still in the early stages of development”. You can say that again. Most teachers won’t touch them.

A couple more quotes:

We found that the exploitation of VLEs at curriculum level resembled more of a cottage industry than a national technological revolution.

…used as a dumping ground or storage place for rarely used files.

So what’s gone wrong? I’d identify three mistakes:

  • Poor software specification. The VLEs promoted by Becta were generally designed as distance learning platforms for universities. Schools do very little distance learning. It’s like trying to dig your garden with a JCB.
  • Failure to change systems. By trying to layer the VLE over the old system of teaching, all the old inefficiencies were retained. Hence, the VLE delivered no real benefit.
  • Failure to work through champions. In most secondary schools there is at least one true enthusiast for online learning. Time and again, I hear stories of that person being sidelined and ignored.

And here is what needs doing to fix it:

  • Use software designed for schools, not universities. School elearning software should solve problems such as too much marking, large classes, lack of 1:1 contact.
  • Change the timetable. Much more independent study time, supported by suitable software. Use the freed-up teacher time to make classes smaller, or introduce small (6-12) tutor groups.
  • Work through Champions. I know this works, because it is what we have done with Yacapaca. Usage is growing like wildfire because the early adopters love it, and tell everybody else about it.