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A service‐oriented virtual learning environment

Andrew G. Booth (Based at the University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Brian P. Clark (Based at the University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 14 August 2009




The purpose of this paper is to present a prototype pluggable service‐oriented virtual learning environment, enabling teachers to create an integrated teaching environment using tools that have been chosen to best meet their academic requirements.


This is an implementation of a WAFFLE Bus. A microkernel software design pattern is used to enable tools to be added and removed from the system. An enterprise service bus is used to provide workflow and message transformation functionality. Tools are managed through web service interfaces and Shibboleth is used to effect interoperability at the web application user interface. The initial services for the prototype were chosen to implement a simple web service teaching workflow.


First, Shibboleth is shown to provide a solution to the virtual learning environment tools' interoperability problem. Second, the service‐oriented virtual learning environment naturally leads to the ability to operate with many different types of information channels in and out of the system. This leads to a multiplicity of possible types of context‐dependent user interface. Third, immersive 3D, possibly the most interesting interface, will provide a context amenable to even the smallest development teams for the introduction of artificial intelligence into teaching. Finally, web service workflow is shown to provide a viable option for the implementation of learning designs with advantages and disadvantages compared to existing approaches.

Research limitations/implications

Different types of information channels are associated with different security problems. It will be important to determine what the best ways are of establishing secure channels to student personal learning environments. The present web service workflow design tools are of the highest quality and usability, but the design process is still a job for a specialist. It might be possible, however, to modify these open source tools to bring the design process within the grasp of non‐specialists.


The software system presented herein represents one possible path leading away from VLE monolithy using a service‐oriented approach. A new solution to the tools' interoperability problem is presented along with a multi‐faceted approach to the user interface. The enterprise service bus creates a flexible platform for the delivery of web service teaching and learning workflows. It is posited that the use of an immersive 3D user interface will create a context that facilitates the introduction of an artificial intelligence layer into the virtual learning environment that can serve robot teaching avatars.



Booth, A.G. and Clark, B.P. (2009), "A service‐oriented virtual learning environment", On the Horizon, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 232-244.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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