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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


'Technology de jour' - Choosing and Using a Virtual Learning Environment: Blended Learning Practice in UK Higher Education

Chandra B. Chandramohan, Malcolm Keech.

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and Managed Learning Environment (MLE) are among the latest educational technologies that are being eagerly adopted in UK Higher Education. While there are differences of opinion on choosing particular platforms or on using proprietary/commercial products as opposed to developing their own, HE institutions in general have seen an overall advantage in deploying the technology of the day. Students, staff and management note respectively the following advantages of VLE/MLE-facilitated learning and teaching: access to resources, flexibility in contact/communication, and cutting down operational costs. However, the managerial rush to deploy the technology of the day is given an official warning: ‘Without sufficient staff development many VLEs are used as little more than a way of distributing course notes.’ (TechLearn pamphlet ‘Buying a VLE?’; n.d., 2002?). The overall picture remains patchy and the transition to exclusive e-learning on a large scale remains a contested, if impractical, goal.

The paper focuses on the development of Blended Learning, a term which is used to ‘describe a solution that combines several different delivery methods’ and/or ‘various event-based activities’ (Purnima Valiathan, ‘Blended Learning Models’, 2002), with the term ‘Hybrid Learning’ used to denote a variant with a more interventionist connotation/agenda. The focus of the paper is on the University of Luton in England, where, as part of its Learning and Teaching Strategy the university has made available a VLE (Blackboard) to its students, staff and administrators across the institution. However, the uptake has been rather uneven with some departments/subject areas/individuals being more active than others. Using data collected through interviews and questionnaires the paper maps the use of traditional and e-learning strategies used in the academic year 2001-2002 and argues that ‘Blended Learning’ was achieved through a diverse and de facto combination of methods building on institutional strengths in teaching and learning.

Drawing on the above example the paper will discuss a wider issue, whether Blended Learning in UK HE would be better achieved through a structured prescriptive ‘strategy’ (a top-down model) or a hands-off approach that can facilitate diversity of methods (‘bottom-up’ model).


Chandra B. Chandramohan  (United Kingdom)
Senior Lecturer
Department of Computing
Canterbury Christ Church University College

Dr. Balasubramanyam Chandramohan, PhD (Sheff) is a Senior Lecturer in Computing at Canterbury Christ Church University College, Canterbury, England. He has taught at universities in the UK and abroad. He interests include computing, (Networking; Human-Computer Interface), educational technology (Virtual Learning Environment; online delivery), and pedagogy (assessment methods). He is an Independent Consultant to the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, and has worked as a Subject Specialist Assessor for the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Malcolm Keech  (United Kingdom)
Head of Department
Department of Computing and Information Systems
University of Luton

Dr Malcolm Keech is Head of Computing and Information Systems at the University of Luton, England, UK. Before taking up his appointment at the University of Luton in 1999, Dr Keech had worked extensively in computing and IT development and management, both in the academic and industrial sectors. While his original academic background lies in mathematics (BA Oxford, MSc/PhD Manchester), his professional experience includes periods at the London School of Economics, the Universities of London and Manchester, Florida State University in the US, British Telecom and British Aerospace.

  • Virtual Learning Environment
  • UK Higher Education
  • University of Luton
  • Blended Learning
  • e-Learning

(30 min Conference Paper, English)