Customisation versus configuration

These terms are often used interchangeably when, in reality, they mean very different things. Configuration allows you to change things (e.g. the colour scheme) using tools built into the VLE. Customisation on the other hand, involves undertaking bespoke development.

We got a very clear message from many of the contributors to this Toolkit that you should try to avoid customising your VLE. Customisation is time-consuming and costly.

Custom features are not one-off developments: they will need to be maintained and updated on an ongoing basis as the product evolves.

Configurability using tools native to the software, on the other hand, is desirable and most VLEs offer a wide range of configurable options. You will however need to evaluate these options in detail to know which are genuinely end-user features and which require a higher level of technical skill.

Service as a service (SaaS) solutions are all about configuration not customisation. Customisation can turn into a massive dead-end. You can't maintain it over time and you can't benefit from vendor improvements as your customisations won't work. Configurability and extensibility (through use of LTI) offer a better way forward.

Mark Pountney, Head of Business Technology and Innovation,
London Business School

Some universities do however feel that the VLE customisation they have undertaken is essential to the kind of learning and teaching they want to deliver and helps give them competitive advantage. The University of Sussex and the University of York, in particular, have in the past invested heavily in customised assessment workflows.

Tailoring the VLE at the University of York

The University of York has undertaken bespoke development of its Blackboard VLE to achieve the following objectives:
  • to allow for different branding in different parts of the organisation;
  • to allow fully devolved administration for course enrolments;
  • to allow a completely different login and look and feel for the medical school operated jointly with the University of Hull;
  • to support an advanced anonymous marking workflow.

At the time the facility to do bespoke customisation and to build and control it ourselves suited us much better than SaaS/cloud options where we would simply have to absorb automatic changes.

Richard Walker, Head of E-Learning Development,
University of York