What is a Virtual Learning Environment?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 March 2020
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Virtual learning environments are software packages that are configured to allow the educational process to occur in an online situation. Containing components that are intended to offer most of the benefits of a physical classroom, the virtual learning environment will include elements that benefit both the teacher and the student. Since the 1990’s, advances in Internet technology has made the use of a virtual learning environment practical for many people who wish to pursue structured learning for college credit as well as attend courses that offer continuing education credits.

For the teacher or instructor, a virtual learning environment, or VLE, allows for the creation of a syllabus for the course. A student version can easily be created from the more detailed syllabus that the instructor will use for the course. This feature effectively allows the instructor to create to necessary resources at one time.

Virtual learning environments will also allow the instructor to track student progress on assignments, set up and administer exams to students, and keep up with all the administrative details associated with any structured learning environment. The instructor has the ability to issue access to different components or resources associated with the environment. This makes it possible to share teaching tools when appropriate, or limit access to the main learning tools that are prepared for use by the students.


Students in a virtual learning environment, especially a distance learning scenario, have the ability to attend classes around work schedules and other commitments. While the lectures and assignments are preplanned and may be viewed multiple times, the student still has access to the instructor. With many learning environments online, this will include email correspondence, interactive chats with the instructor and other students several times a week, and in some instances one-on-one online chats with the instructor.

While the primary application for a virtual learning environment is online, many of the resources can also be translated into use in a traditional learning situation as well. An instructor can choose to utilize virtual learning software to create slide shows, lesson plans, and other components that will work well in a physical classroom. One of the emerging applications is to use the software to create learning tools that are presented in a real world setting, but are then made available for review in a virtual setting.


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Post 3

@browncoat - I think generally the contingency is that people can contact their tutors and ask for an extension or explain what's going on.

I've never taken an online course where they haven't had real life people helping out in the forums or during lectures and I don't think that component is ever going to go away.

Post 2

@croydon - That just shows why I don't think that any schools should switch entirely to a virtual learning environment, without any backups in place. It's ideal for people to be able to do and submit their papers online of course, but they should also be able to send them in on paper or even by email, if necessary.

We like to put a lot of faith into technology, but it fails all the time and if it fails spectacularly, then every single student is going to be affected. There needs to be contingencies in place to prevent that from happening.

Post 1

I've taken several online courses by now and they are usually pretty good as long as the learning platform is adequate. The second one I did was through a school that hadn't really sorted out their technology yet and we kept having very frustrating down time from the website. When you are told you need to do everything through that and then are unable to access it, it can get very annoying and disheartening.

When it goes smoothly though, it's an amazing experience. It's really good being able to access all the information you need without actually having to search for it and being able to contact the tutors and lecturers at will was also a big plus for me.

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