Do We Need a National Virtual Learning Environment?

clip_image001I read with interest recently in the ‘Best Schools’ (PDF) supplement of the Sunday Business Post that plans are going ahead to rollout a national VLE. First mooted in ‘The Smart Schools = Smart Economy’ report in 2009, NCTE are expected to put to tender the building of such a VLE later this year. At this stage what’s envisaged is a Moodle based platform that will link all of Ireland’s schools and will facilitate access to digital content and sharing applications and teacher generated content on a national scale.

Whilst the idea of a national learning platform is laudable with potentially every student in the country having 24/7 access to relevant curriculum content and support, I’m just wondering are we putting the cart before the horse somewhat? I accept such an initiative is a logical progression following on from the considerable investment in classroom hardware since 2009 but from my experience with teachers at both primary and second-level, many are still grappling with integrating these new technologies into teaching and learning . Expecting them to embrace (and master) Moodle also in the short term is a big ask.  Be it the new IWB, laptop and projector, or tablet PC what most teachers seem to be after is comprehensive curriculum focused CPD on using these new tools effectively. So would it not make more sense to hold off on the VLE until we are sure all teachers are comfortable with what they’ve already got?

Secondly if and when we do go down the road of a National VLE is Moodle the best option out there? Don’t get me wrong I think this open-source platform is a wonderful free course management tool ideally suited to teacher CPD and possibly second-level but I just can’t see a five year old primary school pupil taking a fancy to Moodle’s fairly unintuitive interface and I wonder what the actual educational benefits would be if they did. Whilst open-source has obvious financial benefits would it not be better in the long run to go with some of the more user-friendly commercial offerings such as Frog or use a separate primary specific platform like DB Primary running parallel to Moodle?

We would welcome your thoughts on the benefits and relevance of a national learning platform at this point in time so please post your comments below.

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