This isn’t the first or the last time we’re going to extol the virtues of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for schools. The main benefit of a VLE for teachers is that it helps you to organise all learning and course materials and cut back on the vast reams of paper we all had to wade through before. But for students, it can have a very real effect on attainment. Let’s examine what the latest research says are the main benefits of VLEs for teachers, and for students.
Different levels of access
The 2017 study The Influence of Virtual Learning Environments in Students’ Performance found that the number of times students would access the VLE varied wildly from between zero to a maximum of 1532 for the courses examined in the study. But within this range, they found that students’ use of the VLE would fall within a general set pattern: grouped into five levels, these were around 10, 60, 100, 200 and 400. This suggests that apart from a small subset, engagement with the VLE was generally good.
Now, this study was carried out at a higher education institution in Portugal. Generally, universities have so far better understood the benefits of the virtual learning environment for teachers than secondary and primary schools; so the takeaway message here is that genuine engagement really can be achieved. This is, of course, a different story in say, a secondary school; students take far more subjects, and do less self-led research than university students. But that just plays into the true benefits of a VLE.
Similar marks, but more passes overall
This particular study actually didn’t find a positive correlation between the number of accesses to the VLE, and the mean marks received on a particular course. So, for instance, whether a student accessed the VLE a hundred times or a thousand times didn’t actually affect their mark. This result certainly surprised us, but it makes sense when you think about what VLE brings to the table.
What this study did find was a correlation between the number of accesses and the number of courses passed. This suggests that students who make the most of their VLE have a broader range of success than their peers. So while the VLE didn’t help these students to achieve better grades in particular subjects, it did help them manage their workload better, so that they could take on and pass in more courses. This means that the main benefit of a VLE for teachers is that it helps students tackling a large range of subjects, all at once.
If you want to boost your students’ attainment, then, encourage their engagement with a VLE. It doesn’t have to be fun, but it does have to be useful: there has to be a good reason for students to access it. Fill it with useful information and links, things that will genuinely help your students, so that they can better deal with taking on so many subjects simultaneously.