All schools will have a learning platform by 2010. But do you even know what one is? Chris Wood answers the questions you might be afraid to ask
Q What are learning platforms, virtual learning environments and managed learning environments?
A A learning platform (LP) is a generic term, covering a range of products from virtual learning environments (VLEs) to managed learning environments (MLEs). It describes a system of information and communication technologies that is used to deliver and support learning.
A VLE is intended to enhance learning through the internet and ICT and typically features online storage for users and tools to create content for online lessons.
A MLE is intended to support the business of teaching and learning, for example, marking work online, or integrating a school's management information system to provide a more informed overview of a pupil's needs.
Q Every learner should have access to an online personalised learning space by 2008 with a learning platform for all schools by 2010. So how will this benefit individual schools?
A An LP can enhance and extend the learning experience beyond the timetable and physical building, providing an online network of resources, collaborative working tools and personal web space for staff and pupils.
Some even offer a simpler, sustainable way to publish a school website.
An LP can play a critical role in disseminating information for staff, parents and pupils. Homework, assignments, shared calendars, online portfolios. The important thing is that it offers a significant cultural shift towards modernising working practice.
Q How much does a learning platform cost?
A A basic course management system may cost no more than pound;500-pound;700 per year to host, whereas others that include a variety of tools from web publishing to web mail solutions may cost more than pound;3,000 per year.
The total cost of ownership should also be considered, including continuing professional development, which is likely to be a significant factor to success rather than the technology.
Q Can parents see information about their children and if so, how secure is a learning platform?
A Most platforms offer parents the ability to see their children's marks and assignments and depending on the level of integration have the potential to show their attendance.
While security is an important issue it is an aspect of web programming that is well developed. Those conforming to the BECTA learning services framework will have had to pass stringent security tests.
Q Is a learning platform really necessary at primary school level?
A Not as much as secondary, where it has the potential for rethinking the timetable. But all schools, including primary, have a duty to improve learning, independence and self-organisation within all pupils and an LP is one way to do that.
Q Why upgrade to a managed learning environment if you are happy with your virtual learning environment?
A Is your VLE providing children with a true online working environment? For example, once all pupils are using the platform to submit and receive assignments regularly, the next step is to want to manage the results online as well and have as much information available within the system as possible. As online learning increases, an MLE could become a key issue.
Q If I consider changing to a managed learning environment, who will maintain and update it?
A Roles and responsibilities have to be shared across the school. Having a named administrator to look after overall issues is advisable, but the important thing is to avoid a bottleneck in publication.
The more power that can be devolved to the teachers and pupils, the greater the sense of ownership and use.
Q What is my local authority doing?
A London's local authorities all co-operatively purchased a VLE, which has been running for five years. This is provided as part of the broadband provision at no extra cost to schools. All official advice points to the benefits of purchasing ICT together - buying power, regional networks, centralised maintenance and training by experienced staff. Find out what your authority has on offer and the benefits of working together Chris Wood is portal manager for the London Grid for Learning, the consortium providing technological support for London's 33 local authorities. www.lgfl.net
STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES
BECTA, the Government's partner in advising schools on technology, recently completed a framework of recommended learning platform providers. Links to the official documents from BECTA and the Department for Education and Skills, plus generic implementation resources and advice can be seen at www.learningplatforms.lgfl.net.
The model and elements required for an effective ICT infrastructure for education can be found at www.becta.org.uk
The DfES has produced two booklets about the benefits of learning platforms. Visit http:publications.teachernet.gov.uk.