Summary: After a period of relative stability and deeper embedding, the debate about the role and function of the VLE (virtual learning environment)
within the institution is gathering pace again. Many institutions in the UK
are in the process of reviewing their current VLE provision in the light of
changing pedagogical requirements, more administrative integration and the emergence of new classes of social media on the wider web.
In the past, the requirement for deeper integration with other (administrative) systems gave rise to the MLE (managed learning environment) concept. Later, the demand for greater personalisation and the availability of new web tools gave birth to the PLE (personal learning
environment) debate, in which people radically re- conceptualised the notion of a learning environment. During these phases, however, the VLE still remained a dominant force within institutions. This has resulted in a tension between the role of the VLE as a common tool for the institutional community, the desire to make it permeable to the institutional network and the wider web and to allow greater levels of personalization / customization for individuals and institutions.
A number of working solutions are now emerging to address these tensions. This briefing paper will explore five emerging models, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each and link to working examples and further sources of information.