What’s the difference between a VLE and a LMS?

Nothing – apparently.  There was some confusion over the terms and whether there was a difference between them or not, whether they might represent the difference between synchronous (live interaction) and asynchronous (delayed interaction) systems, or whether they might represent a difference in function.  @ShaunWilden linked to the “Virtual Learning Environment” Wikipedia article, which looks at what both terms mean and what the differences are (there aren’t any, it’s basically a geographical difference).

Why use a VLE / LMS?

One of the initial questions here was whether VLE/LMS is intended to replace the real or not.  While there might be more of a move towards 100% online learning (@theteacherjames) and you can use a VLE with one-to-ones or small groups in an exclusively online capacity (@cioccas), the general consensus was that a VLE serves as a complement or supplement to existing classes in the real.  It supports classroom learning (@mattellman), and can replace some aspects of it (@Marisa_C) – in other words it becomes a great example of blended learning (@idc74).

There are activities that you can do in an online environment that you can’t do in the real and vice versa (@Marisa_C), and @mattellman suggested that online is good for delivering seminars but that language learners need the face to face contact – though @Marisa_C rebutted this by saying that you can teach how you like, online or not, it’s what you do that matters.

@HanaTicha provided one of the best reasons for using a VLE – it brings teachers and students together and takes the learning process outside the classroom.

What can you do with a VLE?

@MicaelaCarey asked the question, to which @shaunwilden replied (very much in the spirit of Marlon Brando) – what do you want to do with them?

There seemed to be three main strands – administrative functions, pedagogical functions and as a feedback channel.  @Julian_LEnfant talked about using VLEs with EAP courses and Writing courses, and with teachers for course announcements, administration and documentation.

@cioccas made the point that it’s very helpful if you’ve had some training in course design – as online courses need to be as well designed and facilitated as face to face courses do

The discussions and reflections that can ensue in online courses, whether purely online or blended, were one of the things that @Marisa_C most enjoyed about Moodle courses.

How do you do it?

Many of the VLEs that are available are relatively easy to pick up and you can learn a lot by just playing around with them (@shaunwilden & @Marisa_C), though if you’d like a bit more guidance there is often plenty of help available via the internet or You Tube.  If that doesn’t work, you could always hassle people who have more experience than you do!

Or, you could follow @Ven_VVE’s example and sign up for a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Here’s the record of the learn.moodle.net MOOC, though motivation to see a MOOC through to the bitter end can sometimes be a problem.  @Julian_LEnfant used Lynda to train up on his VLEs.  @cioccas rated Jeff Stanford’s Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching as being excellent and a great source of ideas, even if slightly dated now.  @Ven_VVE mentioned Matt Bury’s page as a good source of information on Moodle

Two things to keep an eye on when using VLEs are:  numbers and motivation.  Numbers can be a big problem – the more people, the more posts, the more the tutor has to read and react to (@cioccas), and motivation can wane, especially when the delivery is asynchronous and people aren’t getting instantaneous reactions to their input (@subnuggurat).

@Marisa_C suggests a multi-platform approach – not limiting yourself to one VLE as one VLE very rarely does everything you want, but instead using different systems for different purposes:  (1) delivery (2) resources (3) communication.

While not every VLE has everything you need, it is possible to add things in.  @shaunwilden highlighted the Vocaroo widgets page, which allows you to embed vocaroo on your own webpage and @Marisa_C mentioned a free (but limited) video-conferencing website called Tokbox, which she had in one of her wikis.

What to use?

The big question…

Lots of different systems were mentioned, with varying degrees of comment, expansion and recommendation.  This next section is basically an alphabetical list, with a precis of any comments as attached:

  • Adobe Connect:  ipad app
  • Blackboard / Blackboard collaborate:
  • Canvas: free trial, then pay?
  • Edmodo:  free, good for YLs (has badges, registration, clear roles, is a closed and safe environment), not so good with very large groups, not exclusive to YLs though, a bit of a mixed bag – some bits are good / some not so much.
  • Moodle:  free to download, complicated to set up (You Tube tutorials available), includes wikis and blogs as a watered down version of themselves, need add ons for audio etc (though could embed vocaroo etc as above).
  • OLMS (Oxford Learning Management Systems):
  • PBWiki:  (editors note – this now seems to have mutated into something called pbworks…)
  • wiggio: has meetings availability, allows voice / video messages
  • Wiki Matrix – an overview of different wikis and what they can do
  • Wikipsaces: good for basic contact with students, uploading files, has some forum functionality
  • WiziQ – has a free version for teachers, ipad app,
  • Writing Skills Interactive – a software package you can use with Blackboard.

In Conclusion:

I was the one who originally suggested the chat topic, as it’s something I’m interested in experimenting with this year, and I wanted to know what #eltchatters (who are generally fairly clued up about all thing edtech) used, what they did with what they used and ultimately, what they recommended.  I think I got an answer to that question – at least I have chosen a VLE from this chat that I’m going to try mucking about with this year, so my thanks to all the chatters involved.