VLE Standards Project


The VLE Standards Project aims to review the current use of the University’s main virtual learning environment, Blackboard Learn and develop strategies to ensure greater consistency in the way it is used. Consultations with staff and students by the Learn Service team and the commissioned Headscape review in 2016 both indicated that inconsistencies across such systems causes frustration and dissatisfaction for students. A recent ISG innovation fund project, looking specifically at students’ perceptions of Learn, indicates that accessing course content and information in a clear and consistent way is a priority for students.

This issue is not unique to Edinburgh or Learn, many other Universities have already implemented standards or thresholds for VLE usage, including: Surrey, York, Oxford, Edge Hill, Swansea, Aston, Newcastle, Sheffield Hallam, York St John, Surrey, Aberystwyth, South Wales, Cardiff, Leicester, Northampton and Bedfordshire.

The project aims to improve the digital experience for all students and users of Learn, specifically by addressing two key priorities in the 2017 Learning and Teaching Strategy:

  • reviewing and enhancing the experience of students on joint Honours programmes
  • reviewing the way our digital estates support high quality learning and teaching and interaction between staff and students.

It will seek to do this by evaluating current inconsistencies in the way that courses are presented and navigated in Blackboard Learn and then by looking to adopt a common standard for all programmes of study, including Joint Honours programmes.

Key Benefits

  • Greater consistency in course presentations within Learn.
  • Better student experience for those studying on Joint Honours programmes, especially where those programmes are across two schools.
  • Supporting and enhancing the requirements of the Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy.
  • Enable greater scaffolding and support for academic and professional staff to develop courses in a more consistent way, and create a greater understanding of how Learn can be used to support their course context.
  • Schools can benefit from approaches already being adopted by other schools/ units/ programmes as key elements and exemplary behaviours will become more visible.


January – May 2018: Consultation, working with students and staff to identify requirements and priorities.

May – December 2018: Piloting, a small number of schools will pilot templates

January 2019: Review of pilots and plan rollout

May 2019: Complete rollout of templates

June 2019: Templates available

August 2019: Post rollout support

In summary, the project will seek user consultation to establish requirements that are consistent across the university and advise schools on how they can implement a University-wide standard approach while still delivering their courses in a way that meets the specific needs of school, programme, and courses.

The output of the project aims to make Learn easier to use and navigate for both staff and students, by providing consistent signposting and scaffolding, and will be supported by additional guidance.

Whilst the main focus of the project is to improve Undergraduate courses in Learn, we expect the project to deliver benefits that can be applied to all types of course, including blended and fully online.

As part of the project we are holding a number of consultation sessions during March and April. This is an opportunity for staff and students to have their say about standards within the Learn VLE. The events will inform participants about the VLE Standards Project and will also provide a workshop environment to enable discussions in order to help define requirements and priorities for the future use of Learn.

The events will be held on 21st March, 28th March, and 4th April – details can be found on Events@Edinburgh. If you have any questions about the project, please contact Paul Smyth: v1psmyth@ed.ac.uk.

Paul Smyth

Paul Smyth is a Learning Technology Advisor within the Educational Design and Engagement team. His current area of focus is the VLE (Learn) Standards Project.

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