Essentially, a virtual learning environment (VLE) is a suite of software to enable educators to manage online learning in a coherent way.
Within a VLE, various combinations of "tools" are provided to support the design of course programmes and create a variety of learning experiences.
Nowadays, most VLE software is installed on web servers and can, therefore, be accessed via the Internet at anytime. Depending on the policy and practice of the school, college or educational organisation, access to the VLE and enrollment onto course programmes may be restricted.
Many of these include Web 2.0 features to facilitate communication via "many to many" publishing. Some of the components are used in the example below and include bookmarking, RSS feeds, podcasts, forums and wikis.
An increasing number of UK schools making use of VLE to support teaching and learning activities.
In addition, the range of online courses being published via VLEs to support the professional development of teachers and other educational professionals is also increasing. These provide a flexible way of supporting professional development, especially as the VLE is normally available 24 hours a day and seven days a week.