Like Lego (TM)

Blended Learning – Learning Management Systems & Virtual Learning Environments

A virtual learning environment is like Lego ™ .  Bear with me – I just woke up and this was the first thing floating around between my conscious and semi-conscious state.

A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) can be as simple or as complicated as you choose.  Lego ™ systems can also be fancy, with a plethora of bells and whistles.  Depending on your collection of pieces, you can have any of the following:

  • Standard, three blocks
  • Single piece blocks
  • Arches
  • Long flat pieces on which to use as a base
  • Corner pieces
  • Drawbridges
  • Ramps
  • Parts for vehicles
  • Little miniature people
  • Etc.

As you can see, it starts relatively easy and gradually gets more intricate.  My kid can put together a Star Wars Millennium Falcon practically with his eyes shut.  Without a map, even.  I still need the map.

At the TESL Ontario conference, I attended a lot of tech workshops and presentations.  I saw some great ideas.  I also noticed a trend.  An intake of breath, a shaking of the head, and a confession that the instructor or teacher would not be able to use that particular program, LMS/VLE, whatever, in her classroom because it was too difficult. This is a valid concern.

Manageable Chunks

The advice offered was always the same: start small!  Don’t try to design the Millennium Falcon on your first go.  Start with something manageable; like an Inukshuk. Start with making something in all the same colours and sizes.  I’m serious.  When you first jump into using online resources, start small.  If you have decided to introduce a Learning Management System like MOODLE ™ (which is NOT entirely FREE[i], by the way, unless you are LINC).  Keep your interface simple.  I’d suggest using only news, and group forums to begin.   This will get learners used to this format and a bit more comfortable sharing their thoughts online.

Gradually build up your platform.  Add a few bells and whistles.  Throw in the WIKI glossary.  Start using the BLOG tool.  Give learners enough time to get used to these tasks and to feel comfortable with them before asking them to go elsewhere on the net to a different site, create an Avatar, and then import the html code of that avatar to the home platform.  This is what some instructors asked their learners to do (I don’t know the abilities of their particular class, so this may have been a reasonable request).  I couldn’t resist asking if they ran into problems with this task.  Yes, they had.  But this team had great technical support and they were able to handle the crisis.

Avoid the Urge to Use EVERYTHING

For instructors and teachers looking into using a Learning Management System, or a Virtual Learning Environment, I suggest taking it a step at a time.  I may have misunderstood the LearnIT2Teach instructions that said you needed to use at least 10 different functions and report back on them, because that is what I did.  I have used the following: news, groups, wikis, blogs, questionnaires (choices), quizzes, SCORMS, nanogongs, calendars, and something else.

Since my class is only 12 weeks, I have jumped right into these tasks, asking learners to do all of the above.  I knew it would be too much too soon, and my main page is overly crowded.  Thus, as is the complaint with other instructors who have started using LMS’s, too much time is spent on the technical part of the platform than actually using the platform as it was intended.

Virtual Dream…

I have a Virtual Learning Environment dream: creating interactive second-life scenarios, connected to the LMS.  Learners could create and use their own avatars in simulated environments to do any number of tasks.  I saw this at the TESL O conference, and my mind was buzzing with the possibilities.  I teach an SLT program in Retail – can you imagine what you could do with Second-Life?  Create a retail space, teach customer service then have learners apply what they’ve been learning.

I’m not there yet.  I’m still learning how to put the windows on my Lego ™ house.  Still it’s the same concept.  One brick at a time.

[i] Citizenship and Immigration Canada has picked up the MOODLE project, and therefore funds LearnIT2Teach who are administering the MOODLE platform.  If you are not LINC-funded, (and it seems that there was an annoying assumption that everyone was), and you would like to use MOODLE, then you have to go a different route.  You have to purchase and maintain a domain (not expensive, like less than $20 a year), then install MOODLE yourself.  This part is free.  But there is a great deal of computer-programming tasks that you need to do in order to get this up and running.  If you are not LINC, this would be like building the Death Star as a first year engineering project – a little too much to handle except  for the exceptionally gifted.

MOODLE – current thoughts

I have been using MOODLE (for those of you not in-the-know, MOODLE is the modular object oriented dynamic learning environment) since September for my current class.

PROS:  The learners love it.  They enjoy using the blog tool, creating entries in the picture dictionary (glossary), using the forums, and participating in activities.

CONS:  It is tech in the classroom, so sometimes the techie part takes up more time than I want.  If I change labs, I have to install Firefox, because, as we all know, the other browsers just aren’t worth the hassle.  Also, it is not a flipped classroom.  MOODLE is just another interactive classroom tool.

One of the possible issues of using MOODLE is the flipping part.  Learners have to know how to update their javas, and install Firefox at home.  I think right now, I am experimenting with the different functions to see which ones would serve a flipped classroom best, and which would not.  The NANOGONG, for instance, is a great tool, but can be a techie nightmare.  When working, it is awesome.  Recording soundbites and then providing feedback is valuable for the learners.

Question – do I still think MOODLE is the better platform than D2L?  I did.  Both have benefits.  D2L seems to have been easier to use, and it had a more attractive interface.  But maybe I’m just romanticizing it, now being 2 months removed.