“The evolution of an institution’s VLE is the narrative of that institution’s attitude towards, and relationship with, learning technologies.”
To me, VLE design usually falls into two categories: 1) an open source solution, such as Moodle/Sakai, and 2) bespoke applications, usually written in house.
Out the box, OSS solutions often don’t fufil the required criteria from a VLE: they all require customisation, setting permissions/roles, branding etc. Even then, the chances of them doing what you want them to do without a fair bit of work is fairly slim.
It’s a classic – “here’s a potential solution, how can we manipulate it to our needs to solve our problem” – approach.
From the other end, bespoke solutions reverse this thinking – “we have a problem, how do we solve it, let’s make a solution specific to our needs.”
The latter approach usually requires more money, but can ultimately save time and effort by not trying to manipulate an existing system – to me this shows a more mature approach to online learning: a badly configured OSS solution (such as found in the majority of Schools – less so in Higher Edu) just represent either underinvestment, or a lack of knowledge in what is required from a website, let alone a fully fledged VLE.
I do believe VLEs are pretty much representative of an institution’s relationship & attitude to online learning (and indeed the web as a whole), but a good VLE deployment requires more than just good intentions, and needs investment, and more importantly – continual development – which is where most of them fall short.