Virtual learning environment

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Here is a picture that shows key elements of a virtual learning environment that supports project-based learning: Virtual environment activity community.gif

Alternative views

  • Virtual learning environments must implement spacial features, avatars and such (Schneider thinks that this is not a necessity, but it's an acceptable stance)

Typical architecture of a VLE

Here is definition from Dillenbourg, Schneider & Synteta (1993)

  • A virtual learning environment is a designed information space.
  • A virtual learning environment is a social space: educational interactions occur in the environment, turning spaces into places.
  • The virtual space is explicitly represented: the representation of this information/social space can vary from text to 3D immersive worlds.
  • Students are not only active, but also actors: they co-construct the virtual space.
  • Virtual learning environments are not restricted to distance education: they also enrich classroom activities.
  • Virtual learning environments integrate heterogeneous technologies and multiple pedagogical approaches.
  • Most virtual environments overlap with physical environments.

VLEs and collaborative learning

"Virtual Learning Environment" are a range of systems that comprise features like a designed information space, a social space being a "place", participants that are active and present actors. We argue that using a virtual learning environment does not guarantee effectiveness per se. It must integrate with rich pedagogical scenarios and these scenarios must profit from its various facilitating features. Applying the "virtual learning environment" concept to any sort of Internet technology (classic Web sites, learning management systems, 3D environments, etc.) entails the danger of ignoring interesting avenus of research and development that could and should enrich education.

"Virtual learning environments" can provide obvious affordances for collaborative learning.

  • members of a community tend to make better progress (peer intellectual & emotional help and mutual stimulation)
  • some goals can't be reached alone (distributed cognition)
  • a group can develop special language and practice adapted to specific problems
  • knowledge through enculturation (collective memory)
  • cognition is tied to experience (grounded)
  • communities can extend beyond formal groups of learners
  • a lot of learning is informal
  • good communities are knowledge management awarey

See also situated learning e.g. Lave (1991) and community of practice




  • Dillenbourg P., Poirier, C. & Carles, L. (2003). Communautés virtuelles d'apprentissage: e-jargon ou nouveau paradigme? In A. Taurisson et A. Sentini. Pédagogies.Net. Montréal, Presses Universitaires du Quebec.
  • Dillenbourg, P., Schneider,D., Synteta,V., (2002) “Virtual Learning Environments”, Proceedings of the 3rd Congress on Information and Communication Technologies in education, Rhodes, Kastaniotis Editions, Greece, 3-18.
  • Lave J. (1991) Situating learning in communities of practice. In L. Resnick, J. Levine & S. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, Hyattsville, MD: American Psychological Association.
  • Schlager, M., Fusco, J., & Schank, P. (????). Evolution of an On-line Education Community of Practice. To appear in K. A. Renninger and W. Shumar (Eds.), Building virtual communities: Learning and change in cyberspace. NY: Cambridge University Press.