Virtual learning environments (VLEs) or learning management systems, such as Moodle and Blackboard, provide many of the tools required for elearning in one system. They have grown in use since the early 2000s and now almost all universities have an institutional VLE.
They may seem a somewhat surprising technology to select in terms of open education, since much of the open education movement has been conducted in contrast to institutional VLEs. Many of those in the open education movement prefer open technologies such as blogs, and see VLEs as a closed environment that stifles innovation (see for exampledebate at the ALT-C Conference in 2009).
However, VLEs have been significant in open education for two main reasons. The first is that they created the baseline competence for elearning for both educators and learners. It would be difficult for any open education to flourish if users did not have a common experience to build upon. Much of what happens in open education may be defined in terms of contrast with this experience, or building upon it: having a base set of knowledge around using forums and content has meant that not every enterprise in open education has had to explain the basics. VLEs provided many educators with their first exposure to elearning, and from this they have gone on to explore other approaches.
In addition to this core set of competencies, VLEs have also provided a useful platform for hosting open education projects. In particular, the open source VLE Moodle has been widely used. The Open University’s OpenLearn project is delivered via Moodle for instance, and many of the early MOOCs used Moodle as their platform for asynchronous discussion and content hosting.