Planning for the future

In reviewing your VLE you are looking to the future of learning and teaching in your institution.

Evaluating what you are currently doing, often against internal or external benchmarks, is relatively straightforward. Deciding where you want to be in a few years time and plotting the right course to get there can require a different mindset.

A number of the contributors to this Toolkit talked about the difficulties their colleagues had in visualising options that might be significantly different to the current situation.

Although we offered the full range of options in consultation what people communicated back that they wanted was the status quo.

Anonymous VLE review project manager

Academics found it very difficult to dream or consider the art of what might be possible. They had been using the same platform for many years, most had little experience of other VLEs and our own was not so feature-rich as many others.

Anonymous VLE review project manager

A number of suppliers told us similarly that, currently, the majority of requirements specifications and user testing in UK VLE procurement describe what the institution is already doing rather than where they want to be in a few years time.

The majority of test scripts are still based on what users are doing today, not what they want to do in the future. As an example, they could be thinking about testing things like personalising the release of content for different groups of students, or asking users to test access to the platform on a multitude of different devices. They could also test how learning analytics might support the various user groups and impact the university strategy. If you're only going to test what you do today, you might as well stick with what you've got.

Stewart Watts, Director of Sales, Europe, D2L (Desire2Learn)

Most people write in their requirements what they have done in the last five years: this isn't enabling strategy. You need to have a longer term appraisal and think 'futurology'. Take a future point and work backwards don't extrapolate forward from the present.

Bas Ten Holter, Director, Higher Education Europe, Instructure

The invitation to tender (ITT) from the University of Twente in the Netherlands represents a very good example of an institution describing its strategic priorities and where it wants to be in the future. You can find this in the resources for the section on Requirements gathering and prioritisation.

Top tip

Take a long-term view. You may be thinking of this in terms of a three to five year contract but experience suggests that once an institution has implemented a particular VLE they may stick with it for 10-15 years.

Developing the vision

There are a number of ways in which institutions have overcome the barriers to envisioning something that could be very different to the status quo and here are some suggestions:

  • allow people space and time to 'dream' e.g. by holding workshops;
  • start with the principles of what you want learning and teaching to be like before you begin to think about tools to support this (more on this topic below);
  • provide examples of what others are doing to stimulate discussion;
  • make use of early supplier engagement, aka soft market testing (see the section on Preliminary market engagement), to stimulate discussion;
  • use descriptive scenarios about what you would like to be able to do rather than definitive requirements about how you want to do it.

Using personas and scenarios at London Business School

As part of the business case for moving to a new VLE, London Business School undertook some detailed scenario modelling using a range of personas.

A persona is a fictional individual that exhibits many characteristics typical of a particular group of stakeholders. The use of personas can be an engaging way to help you see things from another person's perspective.

London Business School used student and staff personas to look at the current user experience of their learning environment and the desired future state. The institution had ambitious plans for change and the scenarios they used enabled them to show what benefits would be realised during each of the three phases of implementation.

You can download the London Business School examples and find ucisa material on using personas in the resources at the end of this section.