The last session at the Australian eLearning Congress in Sydney today is by Alison Bickford of Connect Thinking. She is undertaking a PHD at UTS on "Examination of a work-based virtual learning environment: Design and practice implications". I was not sure what a "virtual learning environment" (VLE) was, so I asked and from Alison's answer, it appears these are Learning Management Systems (LMS) and similar, which include social networking tools. That is the environment provides for interaction between the participants, not just a teacher providing content to students.
VLE is a term I was not familiar with and the derivation of it seems curious. It is not clear to me what is "virtual" about the learning environment. An on-line course seems to me to be no more virtual than the content and process of a face to face one (the building the learning takes place in having little to do with what goes on). The term only occurs in papers on Google Scholar about 7,600 times. Only 550 were before the year 2000, 3850 up to 2005.
ps: The Wikipedia did not help as someone has editoed it to say VLE is "shaun the sheep featuring aidan and his doughnouts". ;-)