The VLE is to teaching as Powerpoint is to presentation

The title says it all really, but just to unpack it a bit more. As Sarah Horrigan commented recently, people find VLEs very dull. This is partly because they are made to use – if you banned VLEs it’d be a sure way to make them interesting. But I think what the VLE and Powerpoint have in common is that they are in the first wave of digital democratization tools.

Such tools can’t be too far removed from traditional practice, otherwise people simple won’t use them. So they provide a useful stepping stone onto a more digitally enhanced future (where it’s always sunny and everyone loves each other).

The danger with both of them is that they represent not a potential stage on a journey for many, but the endpoint. Their ease of use and similarity to existing practice is seductive in this sense, you don’t really have to change what you do much.

Thus we have boring courses in VLEs and boring, bullet pointed presentations in Powerpoint. There is nothing intrinsic in the tools that means boring is the only outcome – good presenters will have excellent Powerpoint presentations and good teachers will have excellent VLE courses. But nevertheless there is something about their proximity to standard practice that means boring is all too often the end result. I suspect this is a ‘churn’ problem – we used to have learn a new approach or technology once every ten years (or lifetime). Now it’s every year (at least) and it takes time to appreciate that there is no end.

The journey needn’t necessarily be onto another technology, it can be making better use of the existing one. But realizing that your practice with these technologies is always evolving is the key I suspect, and that completing the training course is not the end point.


  • Chris Bradley

    My school has used a VLE (Moodle) for three years, we are currently on 1.5 million hits in the last 12 months. I am about half way through a survey into what they like and dislike and what adaptions they would like to see to it.
    Boring doesn’t get a mention, colour and design do. too many clicks is in there and some seriously left feild ideas but I am impressed and humbled by how positive several hundres truculent teenagers with attitude can be.

  • D'Arcy Norman

    But the big problem with Powerpoint is that it isn’t (or weren’t) necessarily standard practice – Powerpoint enforces a rigid linearity in thinking, of distilling complex ideas into series of slides and bullet points. As such, it shapes communication, affects decisions and learning, and colours thought.
    What similar implications might the VLE have?

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