Friday 18 December 2009

Cloud Learning Environment - What it is?

I have been meaning to write this for quite some time now. To be honest, at some point in the run up to the ALT-C 2009 conference, I got this idea. There is a shorter version of this post too. There were many people at a session titled  "the VLE is Dead" hosted by James Clay, Josie Frase, Graham Attwell, Nick Sharrat and Steve Wheeler aka Timbuckteeth :).
Martin Weller blogged about the death of VLE/LMS too in Nov 2007. Scott Leislie coined a term Loosely coupled teaching a month before that. Martin's prediction about a move towards loosely coupled teaching tools has examples in practice today. However, there is more to it. Let me exaplain

PLE...a set of tools that the learners enjoy full control on and choice of.  The tools within a PLE are most likely not used for the purpose of formal education of all learners within an educational institution. Each learner may use a different set of tools to support/enhance their informal learning.

VLE...a set of tools that the learners enjoy very little control over, if any, or choice of and is an institutional system that is mostly likely for formal education. Academics and the institutions have the most control on this learning environment. Learners may have a say in it to some extent.

Loosely quote Scott, "course taught using contemporary social software/web 2.0 tools outside a course management system." - again these tools the learner may have little control over but the academic is the owner and has most control/choice. As its non institutional learning environment, it is most likely to support informal teaching and learning but may be used for formal teaching and learning too. I have blogged on this type of tools as my own personal teaching environment.

CLE or Cloud Learning Environment....The cloud can be seen as one big autonomous system not owned by any educational institution. Let the Academics or Learners be the users, of some cloud based services, who all equally share the privelages like control, choice, sharing of content etc on these services. Then this is different from a PLE, a VLE and a PTE. For example Google Apps for universities is hosted on the cloud, not fully controlled by any educational institution and certainly not owned by one. The tools on it are to a great extent academic or learner controlled. Each "Google Site", for example, can be owned by an academic or a Learner and both users be given the same rights/control by one another (depending on who creates first). Likewise Google Docs can be owned and shared between learners themselves or learners and academics under their own control.

This gives all parties the same rights on same set of tools. This clearly has potential to enable and facilitate both formal and informal learning for the learner. Both the academic and the learner are free to use the tools the way they wanted and share and collaborate with anyone they wanted. This would not have been possible if either the academics or the learners or for that matter the institution designed and developed the set of tools or bought it from any one supplier. Google Apps was not designed just for institutions or for individuals, it was designed for collaboration both within and accross institutions.

CLEs also makes it very easy to generate content and share it with the rest of the world in a DERPable (Discoverable, Editable, Repurposable and Portable) manner, in the spirit of the UKOER programme. With a bit of search engine optimisation it could work magic in terms of making the educational material that sits on a CLE visible and usable by the rest of the world.

Lastly, students at my institution love the Google Apps interface, which makes it very easy to get them to engage with their work using online tools. This can be seen from the crazy usage statistics of Google Sites where I now host my Examopedia.


Anonymous said...

Author: sjtaffee

You make many excellent points in your blog, and I hope that my readers will take advantage of your links to check them out.

Martin King said...

It could be that you are mixing up technology and psychology.

Not all cloud based systems are as user neutral as you find with Google Apps. Also, I'd be pretty certain that when less innovative institutions get into the cloud they will want to bring psychological baggage with them and find ways to lock down and control cloud learning environments - no doubt we'll get Cloud board or something like that.

Technology isn't entirely neutral I think psychology is the crucial factor in operating

ILEs Institutional Learning Environments

PLE - personal learning environments

The answer I think is somewhere in between using various degrees of coupling

Edublend said...

Thanks Martin,

I feel the urge to promote this user neutral experience or atleast giving my students a learning environment that they have more control of and one that can help them in their Lifelong learning journey.

It cant be a VLE, as most students see it as formal learning where learning takes into account all forms including informal learning.

It cant be a PLE either as then most staff do not want to know about it.
So the formal - informal divide stays.

With a CLE there is some hope for this divide to go away. I agree a lot of work will be required to be done in this area before that happens.

@sputuk said...

From Twitter: No-VLE doesnt HAVE to=institutional control,its 'Virtual';"CLE" is just what VLE SHOULD be.Re:@manmalik blog about CLEs

@cyberdoyle said...

From Twitter: @manmalik great when at uni. hopeless when students go home and no connectivity to access cloud in rural #digitalbritain #gonegoogle

Edublend said...

Dont forget to take a poll, see top left of the screen.

JW said...

As a teacher of primary aged pupils. I want mixture of personal tools with some institutional controls, to protect those who are still too immature to keep themselves safe. We use school Google domain but with some restrictions on who they can collaborate with. Cloud is king but it needs sliding scale of controls to reflect pupils growing developing digital citizenship.

Nick Sharratt said...

Your poll is flawed IMHO as i tried to express on Twitter. A VLE is a concept not a product or a particular implementation. As such, a VLE could equally be implemented using cloud hosted 3rd party services and still be a VLE.

For a PLE to effectively engage with an institution, the institution needs to provide a mechanism for that and a GOOD VLE will also do that.

Therefore the artificial choice of PLE/VLE/CLE is erroneous. They are all different views of the same technology if it's done effectively.

Edublend said...


Thanks for your comments. I think the choice is not artificial. If institutions wanted they can make a VLE out of a CLE but they dont have to :).

Martin Weller said...

From Twitter:
Prof. Martin Weller says:
@manmalik I like the term - the issue of control is significant, so maybe sometimes it's VLE & sometimes CLE is required?

Manish's Students said...

From Twitter:

Some views of my students on CLEs or when asked do they think this will facilitate a lifelong learning environment for them:

@smudger1000: @manmalik I like the sound of #CLE personally

@cmantito: @manmalik Possibly. Still fan of doing some things offline. Don't like Docs tho. #CLE #gonegoogle

@ymhr: @manmalik It depends what my colleagues/work place used, but I would definitely try to convince them to. #CLE #gonegoogle

@krueger (twitter) said...

From Twitter:

@krueger: Nice overview of basics of VLEs, Clouds

Helen Whitehead said...

From Twitter:

@helenrf : CLE Cloud Learning Environment - think PLE encompasses that too. But don't like the idea of Google controlling the learning space.

John Krueger said...

Thanks - took the poll. Voted for Cloud E. Wonder though if PLEs could simply be incorporated within the Cloud environment.

Edublend said...

Thanks all for your comments.

Google Apps is just one service provider that is well capable of giving us the CLE experience.

My institution subcribes to Google Apps, but a CLE could be provided by one or a range service providers that are interoperable. There is already evidence of this happening, see for example, ZOHO is yet another cloud service that is extending its service by making it interoperable with MS Sharepoint and Google Apps. Any comments from users of either Zoho or MS sharepoint are very welcome.

With regards to PLEs, yes indeed most of the PLE tools are either from the cloud or are web based services. So they are one step ahead of the game.

However, the way I see CLEs is as the front runner and as a replacement for VLEs or at least complement the exisiting VLEs till they are phased out.

Derek said...

Your explanation is useful - but I think that we are spending too much attention on deciding what the classroom should look like. Engagement depends on how well the instructor/educator/facilitator and the trainee/student/participant makes use of the environment to connect to connect to other people, resources and ideas.

Edublend said...

Totally agreed Derek, but I am talking from experience. See some of my other posts and work.

Grainne said...

Hi my fear is that yet another term will lead to more confusion, discussion about what it actually is! Surely the whole point is that cloud computing enables a pick and mix approach is can you really pin down. Also with boundaries of learning, work, home things become even more complex!

Jared Stein said...

I think some of the confusion orbits around our definition of terms (or lack thereof). If I say "LMS" instead of "VLE" it's more obvious that I'm talking about a type of product with a particular set of features and affordances. To me--and this may be common primarily in the US--VLE refers to a more abstract concept that could encompass or equate to a PLE/PLN. However, I know that my colleagues across the pond tend to use VLE to refer to closed learning systems in the same way I use LMS (and others use CMS).

I think there is still an important difference conceptually between VLE/LMS/CMS and PLE/PLN. Neither has to be sanitized against the other, and this is not a binary choice, but there are key distinctions that can be made, and we may lean more towards one model of delivery and interactivty than another.

Having said that, I think Martin's nomination of the term "institutional learning environment" not only hits the nail on the head, it drives it in with exactly the sort of force we need to clarify what we really want to talk about.

Edublend said...

Hey Grainne,

Current and future cloud based services and tools will be more and more inter-operable. Institutions will have choices of tools/create their own. This will lead to a new kind environment and hence I think the need for a new name/term arise.

We need to move away from the mindset of controlling the student learning environment.

With regards boundaries, I agree learning happens everywhere (at work, home etc), so, why we continue to have a "walled garden"? Students and staff both need to control their learning environment and access external learning networks and CoPs. At the same time institutions still need a platform of providing formal online learning/teaching for all students and staff. Its clear that there is a need for both formal and informal learning and learning networks.

Cloud learning environment is one such environment that allows choice of tools (interoperable ones), it also blurrs the walled boundaries of a VLE for staff and students to access outside PLNs to enrich the student experience.

With regards ILEs, there is a danger that it reflects the old institutional mindset we want to move away from. Leaners that join an institution, should be able to come in and form their learning network both within and outside the institution and continue to participate in them even after when they graduate in the spirit of life-long learning.

Emma said...

I'm rather sceptical of the "cloud" term, mostly because my understanding of cloud is that most of the apps are hosted online; while I think that it's likely a lot of processing power will be online, I think that it removes the choices that a Personal Learning Enviroment suggests to me; I, as a learner, have the choice of a computer or online based service; I have the choice as to whether or not I share my learning with others, or not; etc.

I don't quite follow your point, "It cant be a PLE either as then most staff do not want to know about it", Manish, as as far as I can tell, we have some lecturers who are prepared to learn about & investigate new technologies (by "new" I mean "new to them" - so that could be the Institutional VLE, or it could be Zoho with Google gears to allow offline working, or it could be ...
I can't really see that those who aren't prepared to figure out how they work would have the inclination to figure out how a cloud environment works.

I do agree with you that a PLE can't be "provided" - we can give students starting points & ideas about what they might want to do, but ultimately it's "personal", so it's whatever they want to choose. (I just picked up some coursework the other day, the handins seem to vary from a CD to an a3 sketchbook - the latter is intriguing me, as it's a software development course ... guess the student felt he/she needed big paper to plan it on - as long as they've planned it, I don't care if it's electronic or in a sketch book)

Edublend said...

Hey Emma,

Good to see you here :)

Sorry, the response below is in Last In First Out (LIFO).

Glad we agree "that a PLE can't be "provided". PLEs are great for life-long learning and forming learning networks that are non institutional. With regards assessment I am happy too for them to submit electronic or non-electronic work.

Using Cloud based tools within an institution introduces the students to tools that are widely available outside the institution too. My hope in this is that this will encourage them to build their PLE which they do not always have when they come in.

With regards to my response to Martin King's comment: "It cant be a PLE either as then most staff do not want to know about it" - As we cannot provide a PLE for all our students, I and most other sensible staff do not want to know about it as it does not provide a) a uniform experience for all students b) expects me to use what 10 different students are using c) also sometimes I want them to work in groups with me part of the discussion/content creation (such as my Examopedia wiki). It’s easy to do these within a CLE.

Lastly, with more and more interoperable cloud tools around in future students will really have the choice to use either the CLE tools that institutions provide for them or use something from the cloud and still be able to work in groups as required by courses. I do not think the day has arrived where a majority of our students come in to the university with their PLE already in place.

Josie Fraser said...

From Twitter:

@josiefraser: we could prolong this debate forever by just throwing new acronyms onto the fire :) RT @manmalik: CLE/PLE/VLE debate

Edublend said...

Twitter conversation with @GrahamAttwell

GrahamAttwell: Playing w/ Google sites - don;t lk idea of Google tkng ovr the world

manmalik: @GrahamAttwell: would be nice to know your opinion about use of GApps in institutions as a pre-cursor to PLEs :)

GrahamAttwell: also looking at 4 ease of creating mob apps-cloud/services getting powerful-wht does it all mean:)

Graham: @manmalik Software powerful - have worries about google ownership - think real use cases needed

manmalik: @GrahamAttwell Google is just the start as we are finding out ...with greater inter-operability it wont matter wat cloud tool you use

manmalik:@GrahamAttwell GApps was an example as many institutions have #gonegoogle

manmalik: @GrahamAttwell regards use cases, I hv my examopedia on google sites, lots of portfolio work in it too, also use of GDocs in PBL :)

manmalik: @GrahamAttwell I know ur vote be for PLE, and as a lifelong learner mine too will be that, but for institutional system what say about CLE?

Graham: @manmalik Agree with @josiefraser - these distinctions becoming too fine - cloud obviously part of PLE - importance is practice

manmalik: @GrahamAttwell do students coming into HEIs use PLEs in practice? Do they when they leave and work? I think the later is more likely. you?

Edublend said...


Ofcourse we agree :)

Nick Sharratt said...

What is being proposed by CLE is fine, but the benefits come from it's openess not from it's 'cloud-ness'. It's an open VLE as opposed to most implementation which are criticised for being closed and limited.

To get the benefits it needs the links to the corporate information systems (to provide a framework without lots of manual overheads) and that's where a VLE sits. If you choose to host some of the services in the cloud, fine - but it could be hosted internally and be just as open.

I agree we need open VLEs that allow academics and learners to use their personal choices of tools and that the cloud is likely to be cost effective, robust, scalable etc and is therefore likely to be a key technology on which VLEs are based - but it's still a virtual learning environment. The clue is in the name which makes no distinction between where it lives, it's virtual is the defining factor.

Really, the choice of where a tool is hosted should have no barring on it's use and is really only of detailed interest to the techies who have to implement and support the infrastructure and the finance and legal teams. If it's done well, the academics and learners shouldn't need to care less if it's hosted in the cloud or on physical servers on campus, or some hybrid of the two.

It's still a VLE.

Edublend said...

Thanks for your post.
It's still a VLE that provides the said link and protection of student data therefore we need to preserve that from the VLEs but it's this term that in use already. Infact this aspect of a VLE is what an LMS/CMS provides.

An open VLE is interesting but that could equally be hosted in an institution and that makes it difficult for catering for students who have graduated. This unless the open VLE actually uses cloud based software for Individual/collaborative work. With a cloud based learning environment both the environment and the learning network be maintained and expanded even after graduation. Will an institutional open VLE provide that? The LMS part could still be internal.

roy said...


Would I rather have a PLE, VLE or CLE? And who would control it and own it? I don’t think its an either/or question, much as I agree with the general thrust of the argument towards Clouds. I think we need aspects of all three of them.

But I think we need to move the debate away from the technologies, to the functions we want , and then return to the utilities that might be able to provide what we want.

It might also be useful to disengage a little from the question of ‘control’, and look instead at notions of agency, initiative, creativity, etc. Although it is true that control is still an issue, I think it is already being circumvented by events, and it’s a very ‘zero-sum’ kind of discourse. A more constructive approach would be to revisit the whole issue of how the community of peers, which is at the heart of intellectual inquiry, is being transformed.

See here ( for a more detailed analysis, and here ( some of the fundamental underlying issues.

Edublend said...

Excellent analysis by Roy on the topic. I encourage readers to take a look.

The debate here has been a bit provocative but that was the idea.

I think that the PLE, which includes the community of Peers through the Personal Learning Networks, is being transformed by cloud based services both within and outside of educational institutions.

CLEs have an important role in the forming of the peer communities both within and across institutions.

More on this in a new blog post soon.

roy said...

I looked through the debate once again, and it struck me that Martin King, particularly, was paring it down quite usefully.

So ... some more ideas on spring cleaning the clouds: see

Unknown said...

It is really exciting to see everyone running their LMS's to the cloud. I've worked in the industry and I think these evolutions will force better competition and ultimately lead to a more educated society (students learning in new ways is the goal right). These guys ( seem to really be on top of it has anyone used this?