Managed learning environment

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A managed learning environment (also known by its acronym, MLE; hereinafter, MLE) is a computer-based ecosystem that supports core learning activities such as assessment, authoring, communication, learner progress tracking and, possibly, more advanced options. The scope of those advanced options varies greatly; they may or may not include collaboration, e-portfolio building, hands-on training, on-the-job training, etc.

MLE vs similar terms

The term, managed learning environment, contains some ambiguity since the first word, managed, could grammatically refer to either learning or environment. MLE is a tool designed to create a managed environment for learning. On the contrary, management of one's learning is a task of educational service providers, learners, or both, and not MLE's.


In comparison with MLR, a virtual learning environment, as a term, contains even more ambiguity. According to Wikipedia,

a more correct term may be a virtual environment for learning, rather than virtual learning environment. This removes any ambiguities and identifies that it is the environment which is virtual and not the learning. The term virtual may also contribute to confusion, suggesting that the learning is not real or authentic.

A virtual learning environment (VLE) can be considered a subsystem of MLE. Literally, MLE assumes a wider infrastructure and/or a wider scale than VLE. For instance, VLE tends to be web-based, whereas MLE can be hosted locally, on the web, and/or using some hybrid approach.
More importantly, the term, VLE, suggests just virtual or remote environment. In the meanwhile, MLE may refer to both virtual and physical spaces such as laboratory or apprentice workplace in which learning takes place.


Main wikipage: Learning management system
Presumably, MLE is bigger than a learning management system (LMS), which is supposed to deal with formal training only. However, this meaning difference is rarely the case.
Geographic differences affect usages of these two terms greater than literal meanings. In the United States, LMS is used more frequently than in Europe. The Europeans tend to use MLE and VLE particularly because the acronym, LMS, in Europe usually stands for library management system. In the United States, this system is commonly called integrated library system (ILS).


Traditionally, the corporate training service providers in the United States tend to use one term, learning management system (LMS), while the academia prefers another term, a course management system (CMS). However, based on the meaning, CMS shall support standalone courses, whereas LMS shall also support learning throughout various courses and pure assessments outside of any courses. Presumably, MLE shall be wider than either course management system or learning management system, but practices rarely support that point since the terms are used interchangeably.

Other terms used

Listed alphabetically, similar terms also include e-learning system, learning content management system (LCMS), learning support system (LSS), managed learning platform (MLP), online learning centre (OLC), OpenCourseWare (OCW). They may or may not have the same meaning as MLE.

Learning purposes

Distance learning

It models real-world education by integrating a set of equivalent virtual concepts for tests, homework, classes, classrooms, etc., and perhaps even museums and other external academic resources.
In some programs, such as Elluminate, a virtual learning environment can be similar to a face-to-face classroom environment in that it allows direct communication with the teacher. Students can use emoticons to “raise their hand,” show that they are confused, show that they understand what the teacher is saying, and even give applause for something that the teacher says. Students are also able to talk to the teacher when called on. In many of these virtual learning environments the students are able to write on the “virtual classroom chalkboard.” This allows them to show their work for the rest of the class to see. Students can also be split up into groups in order to work with each other and discuss topics that the teacher introduces. Many virtual learning environments give teachers the ability to share multimedia files such as video and audio files as well as the ability to transfer important documents (Word, PDF,…etc.) directly to students.

Support for the classroom

While originally created for distance education, VLEs are now most often used to supplement traditional face to face classroom activities, commonly known as Blended Learning. These systems usually run on servers, to serve the course to students Multimedia and/or web pages.
VLEs are often used in schools and other educational establishments in order to make the learning experience more interactive.

Support with brick-and-mortar

Special programs can and often do enhance virtual learning environments. While learning virtually, there is still something that needs to be said for hands-on learning. These programs are as unique almost as customizable as the school itself. Designed to foster interconnectivity among students and families while providing opportunities not traditionally found in public schools, special programs can challenge, entertain, and educate while fulfilling mandatory educational requirements. These programs include: High School Clubs, Family Link (a parent and student group that organizes events such as bowling nights, hayrides, mom's day out, movies, picnics, and coffee house nights just to name a few), PA Cyber ++ (for Art & Music outreach in the community), the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) Program, the STARR (Student Tasks of Academic Rigor and Responsibility) Program, Title I Coaching (a federally funded skills-based re-teaching) Program, and the Student Assistance Program (SAP). For more information on these programs in a specific cyber charter school, log onto PA Cyber's

School re-engineering

For now, MLEs are more frequently utilized in distance learning, but in the future they may be used equally often when integrated with a physical learning environment.
The virtual classrooms also provide more technology features than a traditional school setting. Nellie states, “Technology can cater to these neuroscience brain-based findings in the computer lab as well as for online learning courses. Various Microsoft tools such as PowerPoint presentations, Excel, Word processor and other software with multimedia functions can be used by the teacher and students instead of using conventional outdated class tools” (Nellie Deutsch, 2003). One specific example that can used is a PowerPoint presentation for class. Creating an “About Me” lesson allows the students to express themselves through PowerPoint. By doing this the students were able to learn how to use PowerPoint to expand their learning.

In 'Virtually There', a book and DVD pack given out freely to schools by the Yorkshire and Humber Grid for Learning Foundation (YHGfL), Professor Stephen Heppell writes in the foreword:

Learning is breaking out of the narrow boxes that it was trapped in during the 20th century; teachers' professionalism, reflection and ingenuity are leading learning to places that genuinely excite this new generation of connected young school students — and their teachers too. VLEs are helping to make sure that their learning is not confined to a particular building, or restricted to any single location or moment.

Brain based learning or brain-compatible learning theory focuses on concepts that create an optimal learning environment to maximize attainment and retention of information. Successful application is dependent upon everyone involved in the learning process - online course developers, educators and student to understand the structure of the brain and focus on student learner's needs and styles to create brain based learning environments, materials and instruction in a fun, meaningful, personally enriching way. Brain based learning is much better than traditional lecture techniques. However the teacher must be aware of how to implement the techniques into the online learning environment. “Designers of educational tools must be artistic in their creation of brain-friendly environments. Instructors need to realize that the best way to learn is not through lecture, but by participation in realistic environments that let learners try new things safely”.

Proper Ways of Using Brain Based Learning in the Virtual Classroom

Brain based learning is a topic that is challenging teachers, administrators, and neuroscientists to see what is best for students. By providing specific feedback, stimulating environments, and real life examples to students they will be more engaged and active in the classroom. A major proponent of virtual schools is that they provide students with an environment that is effective to them. Funderstanding states, “Because every brain is different, educators should allow learners to customize their own environments” (Funderstanding, 1998 - 2008). By allowing the students and parents to choose the environment that is best for them. In addition, Crain states, “Children who developed a firm sense of trust in their caretakers can afford to leave them and independently explore the environment” (Crain, 1992). In the future, students will feel more comfortable to eventually leave their normal setting. Some students may be too nervous and anxious in a regular classroom so they are not learning.

Learners' advantages

The advantage of this educational tool raises its popularity daily because of the following:


  • With regard to their time availability, fully-functioning MLE's services can be divided in two parts:
    1. Asynchronous services don't require the customers to participate in real time. These services include examinations, pre-recorded lectures, forum and most of project contributions, etc. These services shall be accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    2. Synchronous services require their customers to participate in real time. These services include live webinars, seminars, lectures, etc.
  • With regard to their geographic availability, fully-functioning MLE's services shall be accessible both on and off-campus. This feature enables MLE's clients to deliver educational services to both traditional onsite learners and those who cannot regularly visit the campus due to geographic restrictions.


There is much evidence to show that students benefit from actively engaging with their course[9]. More specifically, the advantages relate to feedback, practice and customization.


This element is must be increased in a VLE. It helps the student to feel part of a learning community. Tools used are bulletin boards, being able to “play-back” a session, chatting via chat rooms, email, and instruction & announcements are current due to the live instructor.[10]

Peer pressure reduction

Core features

Any MLE is a set of teaching and learning components designed to enhance a student's learning experience. All of the tools tends to be Web 2.0 and designed for rich 2-way interaction. All these facilities should be capable of being hyperlinked together. Nonetheless, every set of those components is usually unique and depends on individual needs.

Assessment tools

  • Peer assessment.
  • Self-assessment and summative assessment– e.g. multiple-choice assessment with automated marking and immediate feedback.

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • Self-assessment quizzes which can be scored automatically
  • Formal assessment submission, e.g. examinations, essays, project presentation, and those types that can be marked automatically, such as multiple choice.

Authoring tools

uploading of learner's content, blogs
  • Authoring tools for instructors and student submissions.
  • Student tools– e.g. individual student webpages, ‘drop boxes’ for the upload of coursework,electronic diaries and calendars.

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • Easy authoring tools for creating the necessary documents including the insertion of hyperlinks - though it is acceptable (arguably, preferable) for the VLE to be designed allowing standard word processors or other office software to be used for authoring.

Communication tools

Electronic communication (e-mail, chat), RSS
  • Communication between tutors and students– e.g. e-mail, discussion board and virtual chat facilities, which support various types of communication: synchronous and asynchronous,one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many.
  • Support for students– could take the form of communication with tutors or other students,provision of supporting materials such as course information and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • A notice board for up-to-date course information
  • Electronic communication support including e-mail, threaded discussions and a chat room, with or without a moderator

Curriculum delivery tools

The principal curriculum delivery tools include:
  • Curriculum mapping, which breaks the curriculum into sections or topics that could be assigned and assessed;
  • Curriculum resources, which may include internal web publishing and/or links to external sources usually published in the World Wide Web outside the MLE.
  • Admin info about the course: prerequisites, credits, registration, payments, timetables, contact information for instructors and course coordinators;
  • Noticeboard for current news about the course;
  • The basic content for some or all of the course, the complete course for distance learning. This can be in the form of recorded lectures, slide presentations and notes;
  • Additional resources, links to academic databases or study guides;
  • Delivery of learning resources and materials – e.g. through the provision of lecture notes and supporting materials, images and video clips, links to other Web resources, online discussion and assessment activities.

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • The syllabus for the course
  • Administrative information including the location of sessions, details of pre-requisites and co-requisites, credit information, and how to get help
  • Basic teaching materials. These may be the complete content of the course, if the VLE is being used in a distance learning context, or copies of visual aids used in lectures or other classes where it is being used to support a campus-based course.
  • Additional resources, including reading materials, and links to outside resources in libraries and on the Internet.

Feedback tools

Return of submitted works, questionnaires.

A VLE should implement all the following elements:


A VLE should implement all the following elements:

Special features

3D simulation tools must have been mentioned among other tools. In 2010-2012, Second Life and Moodle launched Sloodle and hinted, according to Wikipedia,

at new options for enabling learning in a social, immersive, and interactive way.

Edusim is the major contemporary effort to integrate 3D simulator and courseware. It features a 3D virtual environment, which can be both (a) projected to the classroom interactive whiteboard and (b) downloaded to learners' devices. This environment allows for direct manipulation of 3D virtual objects.

Other possible tools may have emerged or will be emerging in the future.

Pearson states “In today's cyberage, the Internet can extend the educational value of field trips to levels previously unimaginable. Virtual field trips—field trips taken online—can take a student to locations too far away to travel to or too expensive to visit. Virtual field trips can take a student back in time, into outer space, or into the microscopic world.”[20]

Virtual learning is no longer just for students enrolled in online courses. Students who attend traditional “brick & mortar” schools also have the opportunity to learn virtually. Today traditional students utilize a number of Web 2.0 tools including Virtual Field Trips. Virtual Field Trips (VFT’s) offer a Virtual Learning experience for all teaching environments. This is an ideal tool for online teachers and traditional teachers who are facing district budget cuts that simply do not allow for field trips. VTF’s allow students to participate in a stimulating environment that applies the classroom learning to real-life experiences. VTF’s allow teachers to break the restraints of the classroom walls and provide a stimulating environment to enhance learning that otherwise may not be achieved.

Collaboration tools

Threaded discussions, wikis.
  • Shared work group areas– allows designated groups of students to upload and share files as well as communicate with each other.

E-portfolio tools

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

Hands-on training tools

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

On-the-job training tools

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

Business feasibility

Educational service providers including organizations such as regular employers and job-market intermediaries that are not educational institutions are increasingly turning to MLEs because of many reasons.

Additional customers

Additional services

Provide a service for students who increasingly look to the internet as the natural medium for finding information and resources.
  • Providing students with instruction in a flexible manner to students with different time and location constraints – in a manner familiar to web-oriented students;

Economy of scale

Facilitate the integration of distance and campus-based learning or of learning on different campuses.

For example, accredited institutions such as Chapman College University, Touro University, and Adams State College offer online, on-demand teacher training courses for educators to earn graduate credit and/or masters degrees.[4] In the UK schools are being encouraged to make use of learning platforms. The DCSF in the UK government has published an eStrategy[5] outlining priorities that include every learner in schools having access to an online learning space and e-portfolio.[6]

  • Allows reuse for common material;

Faculty optimizing

Economize on the time of teaching staff, especially when they are also involved in research and administration. The extent of the economy over traditional "talk-and-chalk" teaching is not yet clear, but for instructors without web development expertise, using a VLE absorbs less time and produces a more professional result.
  • Economises the time of the instructors and cuts costs of instruction;
  • Facilitate online learning by instructors without needing web authoring experience;
  • Facilitate networking of instruction between campuses or colleges;
  • Allows automatic integration for student learning results into campus information systems.

Paperwork reduction

Ensure that quality control requirements are met by providing a standard vehicle for collecting the required information

Management of learner paths

Learner progress tracking, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades. In addition, the VLE should be capable of supporting numerous courses, so that students and instructors in a given institution (and, indeed, across institutions) shall be able to move from one course to another.

  • Management of access rights for instructors, assistants, course support staff, students;
  • Documentation and statistics for institutional administration and quality control;
  • Management and tracking of students– e.g. usernames and passwords to ensure that only registered students can access the course; analysis of assessment undertaken by students or their use of materials within the VLE.

A VLE should implement all the following elements:

  • Student registration and tracking facilities, if necessary with payment options
  • Differential access rights for instructors and students
  • Production of documentation and statistics on the course in the format required for institutional administration and quality control

System-user roles

The MLE users are assigned their IDs. The system-user roles commonly vary from learners to learning administrators. Learning administrators access what learners access and, additionally, can create or modify the structure and/or content, as well as are able to track learners' performance.


The IMS Global Consortium is the authority for two international standards that allow moving learning materials from one system to another. They are:
There is no commonly used standard that defines how the learner's performance data can be transferred between two or more systems yet. The most prominent attempts to be mentioned are as follows:
  1. The IMS Global Consortium has attempted to create learner performance open standards; and
  2. Some local schools in the United Kingdom have defined a learning platform "conformance framework" to encourage interoperability of learner performance data.

User interface

A VLE should make it possible for a course designer to present to students, through a single, consistent, and intuitive interface, all the components required for a course of education or training. Although logically it is not a requirement, in practice VLEs always make extensive use of computers and the Internet.
  • Consistent and customizable look and feel– a standard user interface that is easy for students to understand and use. Courses can be individualized with colors, graphics and logos, but the essential mode of use remains constant.
  • Navigation structure – structured delivery of information supported by a standard navigation toolbar. Most VLE software assumes that students will work their way through linear sequences of instructional material. Others are more flexible and will accommodate alternative information structures, e.g. multi-path case studies.

System architectures

Standalone application

Simple MLEs may have been built on a standalone application, most likely, some comprehensive package of e-learning software, which would include assessment, collaboration, communication, curriculum delivery, learner tracking, and library tools as either add-on plugins or core package features. Another possible solution can be built using content management software with learning add-on plugins such as the LearnDash plugin for WordPress.

Federated services

More complicated MLEs such as CNMCyber tend to be built as a set of various end-user applications, which are supported by the federated services such as identity and access management (IAM) jointly called enterprise service bus (ESB). Learner tracking features in this case shall be moved to the federated area as well to track user's progress in various applications.


The software behind MLE can be called campusware, courseware, e-learning software, or learning management software; however, no unified terminology exists and other terms can be in use.


On-demand MLEs are deployed in minutes in already-functioning clouds. On the one hand, they come with subscription prices. On another hand, they no longer require instructors and institutions to run their own servers.
Every major MLE provider supplies this market with its solution or solutions. For instance, Desire2Learn (D2L) offers its Brightspace Cloud. Other providers can use open-source solutions as their cloud core like MoodleCloud is based on Moodle. Some services such as Adobe Captivate, which is a part of Adobe Creative Cloud, cannot be purchased off-the-shelf; they are available on demand only.


This group includes off-the-shelf ready-to-use software packages such as Blackboard, Canvas LMS (Instructure Canvas), Desire2Learn (D2L), Docebo,, etc.


This group includes open-source projects like Moodle, Sakai LMS, etc.


This group includes the software that is developed for individual needs of educational service providers. Opplet is an example of individually-assembled software with individually-built federated services.
VLEs can be used in something as specialized as to meet ISO 9000 certification requirements.

Implementation projects

Student assistance

The Student Assistance Program (SAP) is a program that collaborates with PA Department of Education, PA Department of Public Welfare, and the PA Department of Health to identifying and removing the social barriers of learning for students and their families. The primary goal is to resource and help the student overcome these barriers in order that they may achieve, remain in school, and advance. SAP consists of a specially trained team that identifies these barriers and makes the appropriate recommendations and resources available to the student and their family. The SAP program not only works with school based resources but community resources as well.

Advantages vs disadvantages

MLE's advantages and disadvantages
Feature Advantages Disadvantages
Curriculum delivery Easy online delivery of materials. MLEs provide a ‘shell’ for a course or programme, allowing you to:
  • publish existing documents and presentations easily;
  • link to online sources of data, news services, records and publications;
  • link to online resources such as simulations and tutorials.
  • MLEs can become a ‘dumping ground’ for materials not designed to be delivered online.
  • If materials are not integrated or linked in any way to face-to-face teaching, they may not be used properly, or at all.
  • Issues of copyright and IPR of materials need to be considered.
User experience MLEs are easy to use for both students and lecturers.
  • MLEs may be relatively easy to use, but generally the software is still under development. Some limitations especially in integrating materials exist.
  • You also have to bear in mind that standards which will allow you to take content from one VLE to another are still emerging.
Accessibility MLEs widen student access on and off campus to learning materials and resources. Students should be able to access these resources at any time, in any place.
  • On- and off-campus access to hardware, networks and printing facilities can be problematic for both students and lecturers, and raises issues of equality.
  • Disability legislation and accessibility to online materials also need to be improved.
Content management MLEs offer the potential of supporting large groups of students. Economies of scale can be gained, for example, by producing one set of online materials that can be used and updated each year, and assessing students online. Populating a VLE with material and assessment questions is a front-loaded activity and requires considerable effort and time in the short run.
Instructor's involvement MLEs offer flexibility for lecturers, who do not need to be in a fixed time or place to support students and communicate with them. Lecturers need to plan online support carefully to avoid overload.
Self-paced learning MLEs offer new ways of learning and teaching, such as collaborative projects involving students at a distance. They can also support active and independent learning, where students are actively involved with studying ideas, solving problems and applying what they learn, whilst taking a greater responsibility for their own learning. Such independent learning still needs to be guided and supported. Appropriate training and ongoing support is still needed for both students and lecturers.

Project assessment

In 2005, Scott Walker and Barry Fraser developed a method of assessment for assessing the psychosocial impact of virtual learning environment. In order to constructed and develop the virtual learning environment as a viable means of education, educators must have a tool to use when researching the effectiveness of the virtual learning. This assessment tool, known as the Distance Education Learning Environment Survey (DELES) is accessible to students anywhere. The survey covers the following criteria:

  • Instructor Support
  • Student Interaction and Collaboration
  • Personal Relevance
  • Authentic Learning
  • Active Learning
  • Student Autonomy

The research of Harnish and Reeves focuses on the overall system of the virtual learning environment.[14] This systematic research is based on the following criteria:

  • Training
  • Implementation
  • System Usage
  • Communication
  • Support

See also

Related lectures