The Role of Virtual Learning Environments in the Online Delivery of Staff Development
Report 2: Delivering Staff and Professional Development Using Virtual Learning Environments
2 Online Education
3 Delivering Learning Online
There is a critical need for large-scale staff and professional development in the UK Higher Education sector, as identified by the Dearing report and others. The Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILT) has been established as the professional body for higher education staff involved in teaching and learning. Staff will gain membership of ILT through development of portfolios of their teaching practice and through accredited training and development courses. In future, it is expected that all new lecturing staff will be required to undergo some accredited training in order to complete their probation (this might be linked to associate membership of the ILT). Greater formalisation of Teaching and Learning skills will require an expansion in staff and professional development provision at HE institutions. Such large-scale professional development would benefit from a wider range of delivery strategies, which are effective, flexible and efficient. Online delivery of staff and professional development offers a solution that provides the flexibility and scalability required. Online delivery can complement face-to-face delivery or may entirely replace it.
Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) offer an integrated solution to managing online learning, providing a delivery mechanism, student tracking, assessment and access to resources. Although some VLEs can be restrictive, if used effectively, they can provide a familiar, but functional environment for the user. As a unified environment, a VLE is simple and efficient to administer and therefore attractive to the provider.
Careful implementation of communications technologies can help to create and encourage communities of staff undertaking development at different institutions. Such practitioner networks may prove to be invaluable for the sharing of good practice and peer learning which will be central to high quality development.[TOP]
Staff and professional development can be critical to career progression (e.g. formal management training), development of existing skills (e.g. sharing of best practise), and in the introduction of new systems and methods (e.g. student centred learning). The benefits of professional development should reward both the individual and the institution. The institution benefits through having a more skilled (and adaptable) workforce; motivation should be increased and individual employees more responsible. The workforce becomes a repository for expertise, ideas, and solutions to new challenges facing the institution. The individual benefits through gaining a wider range of skills; perhaps being more efficient (gaining more time to spend on research); being more employable; and even by earning more.
Recent studies of UK Higher Education [1,2] have highlighted the importance of professional development to the HE sector and suggested ways in which the skills of the HE community can be officially recognised.
The Dearing Report  recommended:
and that in time,
This critical requirement for formal professional development on a large scale throughout Higher Education is reflected in the importance being placed on professional development by the funding councils. But the commitment to a greater role for professional development has raised significant questions regarding how best to deliver it. The ILT (Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education ) is now established and plans to begin accepting members (initially through submission of refereed applications accompanied by portfolio's) professional development for Higher Education in the 1999-2000 academic year. ILT will not deliver professional development directly, rather, professional development will still be run internally by institutions or (increasingly) groups of institutions. Institutions already deliver staff and professional development themselves, however the advent of the ILT brings two specific changes: professional development will be undertaken with a specific goal, and is likely to occur on a much larger scale because almost all staff involved in teaching will be expected to undertake development.
The Atkins Review of the Computers in Teaching Initiative and Teaching and Learning Technology Support Network  recognised the growing role of computer based technologies and learning strategies in Higher Education. The review identified a critical requirement for staff development in these areas, ranging from basic IT skills such as word processing to pedagogic issues such as integration of Communications and Information Technologies (C&IT) in the support and delivery of teaching.
Professional development is usually seen as an ongoing process with staff working towards gaining recognition through a mix of formal and informal study, completion of assignments and production of portfolios. Far less importance is placed on learning from textbooks as so much of the work is based on reflection of individual experience. It is vital that professional development should be personalised and tailored to the needs of the individual, and relevant to their situation. For professional development, the participant should be able to relate what they learn directly to their own subject area. A critical benefit of professional development comes through sharing experiences with others (and reflection on one's own experience) and this can be maximised by establishing groups of similar experience who undergo their development together. Unfortunately creating groups can be difficult for a variety of reasons e.g. finding convenient regular meeting times, accommodating varying workloads (group members may fall behind at different times due to other commitments) and finding sufficient numbers of staff with similar development goals in smaller institutions. Similarly, mentoring, whereby a junior member of staff learns directly from a senior one, is an attractive and popular mechanism for professional development. This is also difficult in small institutions where an appropriate mentor might not be available.
Staff and professional development is normally delivered through training workshops, often all day or part-day events, usually (though not always) held within the individual's own institution. Although these existing structures for delivery of professional development work well on a small scale, they are not easily scaled up. Furthermore, if professional development is to be encouraged (and in some cases made mandatory), then new, more flexible delivery strategies must be developed. Flexibility will be vital to any increased use of professional development:
It is likely that online delivery of professional development (especially through the Internet and institutional Intranets) will be vital to attaining this flexibility. Electronic distribution of materials is efficient and enables simple revision and expansion of course materials. Delivery of courses online avoids the time and place constraints that can hinder face-to-face development programmes. This is especially appropriate if professional development is to be seen as an ongoing process. The utilisation of communications technologies to create groups and communities of learners will facilitate vital relationships such as mentoring and peer communication. The establishment of virtual groups, which may be geographically distributed, can circumvent (to some extent) the problems that small institutions may encounter when trying to establish groups of learners with similar goals.
The TALiSMAN (Teaching And Learning in Scottish Metropolitan Area Networks ) project has employed several alternative strategies to deliver staff development, as reported previously . This report draws on our experience in delivering staff development face-to-face and online, and will examine some of the key factors for successful online delivery of staff and professional development. In addition, this report will assess a number of special software solutions (termed Virtual Learning Environments or VLEs) which can be used to support the learning process in the context of professional development. Other JTAP projects [6,7] have been funded to examine the role of VLEs in learning generally. The JTAP report by Britain & Liber  attempts to evaluate several Virtual Learning Environments pedagogically and examines how their use might fit with existing structures for delivery of teaching and learning in Higher Education. Although concerned with teaching and Learning rather than staff development, the issues discussed in the report (particularly the types of learning that are supported by individual VLEs) are of relevance.[TOP]
2 Online Education
We will first consider some general principles and issues of online learning, before considering how online staff and professional development differ from straightforward online learning and how this impacts the design and delivery of online courses and materials for professional development.[TOP]
2.1 Why do people teach and learn online?
This all paints a rather rosy picture of online learning. In reality, there a number of further factors to take into account. Consider the following.
2.2 What makes good online learning?
Good online learning material must provide not just the knowledge or information, but also the opportunity for communication and reinforcement of learning through reflection, an inviting environment for collaborative activities, and clear information regarding the pacing of the course. Ideal online learning material should extend beyond being a virtual coursebook, to being a virtual classroom.
To create high quality online learning, the whole course must be re-visited and appropriate online technologies selected and uitlised to create a rich learning experience. Inevitably, this will involve re-engineering of materials to make them something more than 'online texts' (where the first thing the learner does is to print the materials and read them on the bus). Materials must be made flexible, modular, formalised (so that they may be re-used in different courses, or different instances of the same course). Considerable thought should be given to making materials interactive (where appropriate) and to structuring materials in such a way as to make them stimulating. As far as supporting the learner is concerned, face-to-face learning is normally delivered through a mix of lectures (one lecturer and dozens if not hundreds of learners) and tutorials (one tutor and a dozen learners). For online learning, lecture style materials may be largely or wholly unsupported (and delivered as self-study materials), but the vast majority of the 'learning' will occur in tutorial-sized (or smaller) groups. Thus in reality, the tutor:student ratio for online courses approaches tutorial level (1:10 or so), rather than that for a lecture. Although one tutor might be responsible for more than one tutor group, it is unlikely that individual tutors could support more than forty or fifty students effectively, both in terms of workload, and developing effective relationships.
Of course, we have been discussing a rather restrictive scenario: one where learning is delivered entirely online. It would be far more appropriate to consider online delivery as just one of many modes of delivery of learning, to be used to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the demands of individual courses. The following section describes some scenarios for learning which combine online delivery with face-to-face delivery of learning.[TOP]
2.3 Forms which online learning can take
For staff and professional development, any of the three models above might be used. The integrated model, where most benefits of online delivery may be realised is more difficult to run. In contrast, the 'content + support' course, whilst easy to establish, brings only a few of the benefits of online learning. We will consider each type of course in the light of staff and professional development.
Content + Support Model
The Wrap-around Model
The Integrated Model
Offline vs Online
For some courses, an alternative approach would be possible, combining an online component (accessible only through an Internet connection) and course materials delivered separately. Offline materials could be provided on CD or even on paper, especially if they are static materials as may be used in a content + support style course.
As has been discussed already, professional development is a fundamentally interactive process. It is less about learning from textbooks, more about learning from others, by sharing experiences and by reflection upon your own experience. For this reason, the development process will require little in the way of reading pre-prepared materials, (though it may involve searching the Internet for resources) but will require facilities for communicating in a number of different modes. Also the system must allow the learner to publish his or her own materials. For this reason, although it would be desirable to be able to work offline, it is recognised that many activities will take place online. Of course, submissions can be prepared offline, then up-loaded when complete.[TOP]
2.4 What are the special requirements of professional development?
2.5 Helping People to Learn Online
Availability of materials
Access to other learners
Providing sufficient support for the online learner (whether it is information about when completed assignments are due, clear procedures for reporting of technical difficulties or providing appropriate forums for asking questions about course materials) is critical to the eventual success of any course delivered online. Stable channels for delivery of information and support must be established. Support structures should be created which pre-empt all general enquiries perhaps through the use of a regularly updated course calendar or comprehensive course manual. This should be backed up with a group listing any new issues which arise. FAQs FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) may subsequently be incorporated into updated versions of course manuals. Email can also be a powerful for providing general and pre-emptive support. Even if a course does not have a set timetable, regular email messages can subtly pace the course, reminding the learner that they are not alone, and providing critical (and not so critical) information. This can also be a good way for the tutors to develop a relationship with their groups. Even if personal emails are not sent, email messages can be easily personalised (using a mail merge facility) to create individually addressed emails (Hello Stephen, Hello Judith etc., rather than Hello Class.)
For general support, it is acceptable to create FAQs, showing common questions and answers. To support the actual learning material however this may be inappropriate. Instead of being able to browse a list of questions and answers, it may be an important part of the learning process that the learners formulate questions regarding the course material themselves. For information that is not already in the course material, participants can be encouraged to ask questions either to the tutor (personally or in an email) or to their tutor group (through the course discussion forum). For this reason, it is important to create a forum for discussion, rather than a forum for answering questions: if the tutor answers all the questions all the time, any debate is stifled as the tutor gains too much authority. The use of more than one tutor in each discussion forum (though more effort for the tutors) can be helpful in creating an atmosphere of debate as no single voice has ultimate authority. Of course, encouraging participants to ask questions of their peers fits with our general concept of professional development, where the individual learners should be learning from themselves (through reflection) and each other as much as from a tutor or coursebook.
In this section we have looked at some of the advantages and disadvantages of online learning, discussed some of the ways in which online learning can be delivered and described some of the critical issues for effective delivery of online learning. The next section will survey some of the emerging tools for delivering and managing online learning; collectively termed Virtual Learning Environments. [TOP]
3 Delivering Learning Online
We can list a core set of features which it is expected a VLE may seek to provide.
3.2 Types of Virtual Learning Environment
Alternative models of VLE have arisen, particularly within UK Higher education. These adopt a learner centred approach and provide a set of tools to allow the learner to construct (around themselves) an environment for effective learning, by collecting together and constructing a set of resources relevant to the way in which they have understood the learning material. Examples of this type of VLE include COSE  and Learning Landscapes .
An extension of this learner centred model can be found in environments which support collaborative learning. Collaboration may be synchronous (through the use of video conferencing, audio communication or white boards) or it may be asynchronous (through the provision of shared workspace). An example of this type of VLE is CoMentor . Finally, another two environments, the CVU project  and the Nathan Bodington building , merit discussion although not strictly VLEs. [TOP]
3.3 Survey of Virtual Learning Environments
Table 1: A range of Virtual Learning Environments
We will use WebCT as a benchmark, as it is an archetypal VLE, and because it has been discussed in detail in the first report of this project  and should be familiar to many readers. All the VLE approaches discussed here use the World Wide Web (WWW) to some extent, and almost all use it as their prime or sole method of delivery. The WWW is an incredibly flexible medium and the current accessibility of online learning materials is largely due to the advent of the WWW. However the WWW does have its limitations and it is important not to be restricted by it. [TOP]
3.4 Traditional VLEs
The course tools include support for asynchronous and synchronous communications. Synchronous communication is through the shared whiteboard and chat facilities, whilst asynchronous communication is supported as either one to one (email like) or one to many (as in the discussion forum, where individual students can be assigned to sub-groups). In WebCT, there is in-built (though rather rudimentary) support for assessment tests. This extends to multiple choice type questions, with automatic logging of scores and an opportunity for the test author to provide feedback for each answer. A calendar facility provides a convenient means of distributing announcements regarding the course, and the student can add notes to this calendar, either for their own private use, or made visible to the whole class.
Students have a presence in the WebCT environment through the provision of home pages which allows them to post a single web page of information about themselves or link to external pages. Students create their home pages through a rudimentary WYSIWYG editor, so no knowledge of web page creation is necessary. Students with these skills can write their own pages, gaining more control than if they used the in-built editor alone.
As it is web based, WebCT material can be linked to external resources, though this is not encouraged - elements within WebCT can be easily tracked, resources outside cannot; so for administrative reasons, the WebCT environment is structured to discourage the use of external resources. Course materials, though created as simple web pages are held as database objects, allowing WebCT to track access to individual pages by each student. Individual resources within WebCT are arranged linearly, and extra internal links are not encouraged (though not prohibited). Again this is to aid management of the access tracking process.
When a student logs in to the WebCT environment, they are given access to all courses on which they are enroled, together with access to the course discussion forum, calendar, other student's homepages etc. The course materials themselves are arranged linearly [as described before, see the left hand pane in Figure 1]. This provides a temptation to make the course material resemble an electronic textbook, with sections and sub-sections. For course authors, it is important to exploit the multimedia capabilities of the web, with pop up windows etc., rather than just create pages of text or text and pictures.
Although present, the communication tools are not directly available from within the course material. This makes discussion of the learning material a less natural process - a student might read a section of text and not realise that there was a discussion about that page and its contents in the course discussion forum. In contrast, a facility for making notes is available, and any notes made are tied to a particular page, providing them in context for future reference.
Figure 1: Example screen from WebCT, showing Linear Structure
3.4.2 Top Class
The creators of TopClass have invested considerable effort in creating a set of authoring tools which are simple to use, allowing content to be created quickly by non-experts. For instance, a set of 'wizards' are available which can take Microsoft Word and PowerPoint Documents and convert them automatically for presentation within TopClass (they are in fact adaptations of the Internet Assistants previously made available by Microsoft). Unfortunately, this rather misses the point: a word-processed file designed originally to be printed out and read has not been designed for reading on screen, and as such won't make for appealing electronic learning material. Why not provide the original document (or an Adobe Acrobat PDF version of it), and allow the student to choose whether to view online or print out? By presenting the document in its original form it is kept as a distinct resource, rather than lost into the learning material.
WebCT and TopClass provide a simplistic environment to manage the learning process. All the tools for delivering learning online are present, but only just. These packages do succeed in a modest aim to provide support tools for online learning, however the compromises taken to allow these tools to work together is detrimental to the overall worth of the package. As a result, WebCT and TopClass excel as delivery mechanisms and are able to track students' progress through learning materials and provide useful feedback to the tutor/administrator. But they are poor for assessment and fail in communication, an important feature. WebCT and TopClass will be useful in the delivery of 'training' for self-study. Anyone wishing to use them for activities that require extensive communication may well see their limitations.
PIONEER provides simple to use student management tools available on an extra set of menus seen only by tutors. Students can set their own preferences for the environment as well as update their own information. Organisation of the learning material is simplistic (as with WebCT), but the initial aim of PIONEER was to aid delivery of material within Further Education where materials are traditionally objective driven and naturally simple in structure. Within PIONEER, navigation is particularly good, with colour coding and standard layouts making the structure of the materials transparent and navigation intuitive. This can be critical for online learning where guidance is not immediately available.
PIONEER also offers a reflective log, a modified discussion area where individuals can post their thoughts on a particular topic then invite others to respond, or add further ideas themselves. Although developed in the Further Education sector, PIONEER is being marketed as a commercial product, and the release of a second version (PIONEER 2) is expected in late 1999. PIONEER is being used for training and professional development in the Scottish School of Further Education (SSFE) and the Glasgow Telecollege Network (GTN).
First, Merlin is far more attentive to the benefits of communication (the initial implementation of Merlin was actually for teaching languages). The Merlin environment makes use of Real Audio streaming  as an efficient and simple means of allowing users to create audio messages. Participants are encouraged to 'post' an audio portrait of themselves. In fact the same technology could extend to the recording of video for streaming. Real audio is also used throughout the environment, to provide commentaries for presentations, feedback on discussion etc. Many users of online conferencing systems bemoan the impersonal climate of the text-based bulletin board. Using audio (sparingly - it could easily be overused) can alleviate this and personalise the community feeling within any course. Of course there are specific implications in the use of extra technology such as audio files. Participants may need to upgrade their machines and install extra software (which may in turn mean that they always have to work from a specific computer).
Second, the Merlin environment provides explicit support for the tutor to provide specific pathways through learning material, freeing them from an imposed structure. This freedom can be critical in tailoring courses to the needs of the student. Merlin encourages synchronous communication and has a 'who's online' area to allow individual students to page others on the course. Thereafter they can communicate via the chat facility, or post audio messages and 'virtually' converse. With its sense of community, Merlin 'feels' more like an environment for learning, than simply an environment for training.
Whilst Merlin tries to use audio to bring alive the communication process and make the learning experience a more communal experience, it is still firmly centred around the learning material. The next section describes VLEs which use a different approach.[TOP]
3.5 Learner-centred and Collaborative Environments
3.5.2 Learning Landscapes
Although fundamentally an extended email system, the Learning Landscape client contains a rudimentary web browser and all materials are created as web pages. As external WWW resources are identified, individual students can add links from their personal Learning Landscape.
Both COSE and Learning Landscapes recognise the importance of activity in learning and each present environments which are ideally suited to task based learning approaches or methods of online teaching which encourage communication, collaboration and a significant amount of input from the student. Each of these environments provide options for access to web-based learning materials and courses, though for the most part, tracking of the student's use of these resources is poor. It could be argued that the student tracking offered by WebCT etc. is of little practical use, especially in an area such as professional development. Neither COSE nor Learning Landscapes have built in Assessment tools, making it difficult to collect information on how the student is performing. Objective type testing at this level of professional development is likely to be used only for formative assessment. In this respect, the stand alone assessment tools provided by CVU , CASTLE , and WebTest , can be easily implemented, with the only loss being slightly limited integration (e.g. no link between student records and assessment test scores).
A final feature missing from both Learning Landscapes and COSE is navigation and pacing information. These environments rely wholly on the tutor to provide information about how the student should be progressing, and this in turn requires a commitment to provide feedback on their progress. This is permissible, as the ultimate success of the environment will depend on the interpersonal relationships built up between students, their peers and their tutors.
Although navigation is also lacking in these environments this should not be a significant issue. For the most part, students will be creating their own structure - so navigation will be intuitive. Within individual sections of learning material, good web page design and careful integration of course tools (course discussion, guidance etc.) should be sufficient.
Learning Landscapes and COSE clearly provide a less structured approach to learner management. They seek to enrich the learning experience, leaving construction of knowledge to the learner. This is in contrast to some of the other VLEs, which primarily seek to aid delivery or administration. COSE and learning Landscapes provide the type of learning environment which would be perfect for online professional development, with emphasis on the learner.
There is an intrinsically synchronous nature to CoMentor. Chat facilities are always present on screen (in a frame at the bottom of the web browser window) as are details of other students online. For synchronous communication, role-playing is possible - the original philosophy students could choose to adopt the persona of specific philosophers and argue from their standpoint. Similar activities would work within a professional learning environment. The group work area is where CoMentor excels. With powerful tools to allow students to organise themselves into individual (ad hoc) discussion groups for individual topics. Sharing of resources is simple and students can annotate each other's work within the shared environment.
Aside from the use of the course notice board, there is little opportunity for pacing or moving on the course. But in a way, CoMentor is less an environment for the delivery of learning material and far more of a collaborative workspace. This is borne out by the apparent emphasis on synchronous communication. [TOP]
3.6 Home-made Environments
3.6.2 Nathan Bodington Building
The NBB is an example of how a simple metaphor and simple idea can be scaled up easily. By creating their own structures, simple discussion and assessment facilities and security, the authors have been able to tailor the system carefully to the needs of the University of Leeds. Like CVU, the Nathan Bodington Building isn't an off the shelf software solution, though it does highlight the benefit of tailoring (or creating, if the skills are available) tools to specific purposes.
The nine systems described above highlight the range of Virtual Learning Environments available. There is no single software solution for delivery and management of online learning. Rather, the delivery mechanism should be matched carefully to the type of learning it is mediating. The final section will revisit some of the critical issues governing the delivery of staff and professional development, and provide some general guidance. Before this, we will consider one further real life example of delivering staff and professional development online.[TOP]
3.7 LOLA: Learning about Open Learning
In 1999, the Institute for Computer Based Learning at Heriot-Watt University wrote and delivered a course called LOLA (Learning about Open Learning ) as web-based open learning delivered to 400 participants throughout Eastern Europe. All participants on the course were from post-secondary education and the professional development delivered would utilise ten UK-based tutors, each responsible for forty students (in groups of around 10, grouped by country). In addition, there was a local co-ordinator for each country involved. Tutors met their students once, for a workshop at the beginning of the course. Thereafter, all communication was through email, mailing lists and the course discussion forum, although the participants in each country did attend further workshops and were of course able to meet separately. The course lasted six months, with assignments due at approximately monthly intervals, allowing considerable leeway for students to work at their own pace whilst still being a cohort-based course. The course delivery medium was WebCT, which suited the largely linear structure of the course (a paper copy of the course was also distributed, though all support and communication was carried out online). During planning of the course, it was recognised that the in-built communications facilities offered by WebCT were not sufficient to support the type of discussion expected to occur during the course. As a result, WebBoard discussion software  was used in place of the inbuilt discussion forum. This ability to replace components is in fact a significant strength of WebCT and is not possible in many other environments.[TOP]
If we think back to the three models for online learning described by Robin Mason (content + support, wrap-around and integrated), we can see that different VLEs complement different models of course. For instance, WebCT and other similar VLEs are most suited to the delivery of 'content + support' courses because the critical requirement is to deliver the learning materials and provide opportunity for communication. The 'content + support' course model, with its emphasis on generic materials held and delivered centrally, is appropriate for delivery of 'training': software courses, procedure training etc. Communication on such courses is unlikely to involve in depth discussion of issues, but would instead focus on answering questions. There would be little requirement for participants on such courses to demonstrate their competence to other members of the group - so collaborative working facilities are less critical.
A typical 'wrap-around' course might involve a combination of theory and discussion, with all participants running through set learning materials with concurrent discussion of the wider implications of what they are learning. Establishment of a learner community is critical for such study and this type of course would require more robust communications tools than WebCT or Top Class would provide, whilst still not involving collaborative working. The Merlin environment, with its more developed community spirit provides an excellent medium for this type of learning.
Finally, 'integrated' courses, where considerable communication and collaborative working is essential should utilise a learner-centred environment such as CoMentor, COSE or Learning Landscapes. A typical integrated course might be one where participants utilise few if any set resources, instead concentrating on their own experience, and that of their peers. These collaborative learning environments provide all the facilities for them to construct their own resources and share their work easily with others. As the ultimate conclusion of such courses might be to build up a portfolio of work as 'evidence', a learning environment which values student input should be chosen.
How real are the above scenarios? Well, probably quite typical: it is important to remember that staff and professional development will cover a whole spectrum of course types, from pure training to post-graduate level research. The LOLA course included face-to-face components, despite being very much an online course, delivered at a distance.
In fact, organised and accredited staff and professional development as would occur in preparation for ILT membership might involve a lecturer going on all three types of course. This lecturer might gain IT literacy as part of a new lecturer program, gain associate membership of ILT through courses in developing teaching practice, and gain full membership through a more rigorous self-directed examination of teaching practice. Thus it is likely that a lecturer will (over a period of time) have to undertake course delivered in different VLEs.
Interoperability is a key here - it is conceivable that materials created (notes taken) during one online course could be directly relevant to a course delivered in a different environment. The IMS project (Instructional Management Systems ) seeks to address issues such as interoperability of learning environments by examining structures and publishing standards for the 'data types' involved - (how does the assessment system describe question types and how does it provide feedback, how does the student tracking system store information on how far a student has progressed through the course). Most of the VLEs described here are working towards being IMS compliant, which in theory would mean that a learner could seamlessly transfer to a different environment, taking their own 'preferences' with them.
For professional development delivered online, as with any learning, it is vital that the medium should not restrict the learning which is occurring. Nor should the technology be used just for the sake of it. Virtual Learning Environments help to manage the learning process which can be invaluable. Matching appropriate environments to specific course materials is the critical step. We should take this opportunity to design courses which exploit the flexibility offered by the Internet and online delivery. Whatever the learning environment, face-to-face contact will still be vital in creating courses which work. We aren't about to embark on a programme of development where everyone goes off and studies alone, instead we should attempt to use the technologies available to create real communities, committed to improving teaching quality and continued development. [TOP]
© Heriot-Watt University 1999
The JISC Technology Applications Programme is an initiative of the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Higher Education Funding Councils.
For more information contact: