A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a system for delivering learning materials to students via the web. These systems include assessment, student tracking, collaboration and communication tools. They can be accessed both on and off-campus, meaning that they can support students’ learning outside the lecture hall 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This enables institutions to teach not only traditional full-time students but also those who cannot regularly visit the campus due to geographic or time restrictions, e.g. those on distance learning courses, doing evening classes, or workers studying part-time.

There are different types of VLE, which all work slightly differently but ultimately perform the same function and can deliver the same learning materials. A Higher Education institution is likely to have a licence for a VLE that fits into any one of the following three categories:

  • off-the-shelf, such as Blackboard or WebCT
  • open source (often free to use and adapt but support is charged for), such as Moodle
  • bespoke (developed by institutions for their own individual needs)

A virtual learning environment (VLE) is a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student’s learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process. The principal components of a VLE package include curriculum mapping (breaking curriculum into sections that can be assigned and assessed), student tracking, online support for both teacher and student, electronic communication (e-mail, threaded discussions, chat, Web publishing), and Internet links to outside curriculum resources. In general, VLE users are assigned either a teacher ID or a student ID. The teacher sees what a students sees, but the teacher has additional user rights to create or modify curriculum content and track student performance. There are a number of commercial VLE software packages available, including Blackboard, WebCT, Lotus LearningSpace, and COSE.