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Why investing in a Virtual Learning Environment is like buying a new car

Would you buy a new car based on one recommendation alone? No of course you wouldn’t. You would look at what others are driving, narrow it down to a shortlist of cars that you like, ask friends and colleagues what their experiences are and then take a couple for a test drive before making your decision.

So why would your school invest in a Virtual Learning Environment on one recommendation?

Well that is just what many schools are doing. In the rush to go online and be prepared to deliver remotely, some schools are being directed towards one VLE over another without being given the opportunity to look at others first.

I’m not saying that they are making poor decisions, but I am saying that they may, in time, regret making a decision in haste or trusting in those that should have known better.

A recent (unscientific) Twitter poll by TES showed that UK schools are using a range of over 50 VLE’s and other online tools.

Of course there are the two big ones supported by the DfE’s VLE scheme, Google Classroom (48.3%) and Microsoft Teams (37.5%), but there is also PurpleMash and Tapestry in third and fourth place. Not to mention others such as SeeSaw, Show My Homework and Moodle.

So how does a teacher, Head or governor find that one which is best for their school?

Well, it’s just like buying a new car. They need to take the time to look at what is available, research the abilities and limitations of each, talk with other schools about what their experiences have been and finally choose one. Obviously you can’t take a VLE for a test drive for a short period of time and then decide to go with another, but you can take guidance from those that have met the pitfalls before you.

However schools should be wary of taking their lead from their IT support department or their local authority. That’s a bit like asking a Mazda salesperson whether to buy a Mazda 6 or a Ford Mondeo; they have a vested interest in the outcome. They will consider what will be easiest for them to support and whatever platform they are familiar with, but that might not be the best for the pupils, parents and teachers. 

So where do you start?

First, reach out to other schools in your area and ask to see the platform they are using and discuss its use. Take a look at The Key for Schools Leaders, read their comparisons and general advice, and then get in touch with the Edtech Demonstrator Schools and Colleges Programme who will put you in touch with a school that can coach you through your adoption of the VLE and other educational technology.

Remember, just like buying a car you are investing in a platform that you are going to have to be comfortable using for four or five years, because, as with cars, there’s always a new model on the market.

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