Now I do understand why, since I’m not enrolled in the class, I can’t really be a part of it. And I am sympathetic to what I think I understand as your view: a course management system (or instructor/institution-created VLE) is necessarily a walled garden due to concerns about pedagogy and privacy, both of the instructors and students.
There does seem to be a variety of approaches. Some classes, like CCK08, are completely open and for the most part force learners to create their own systems which, as you’ve noted, creates a high bar. Others, like Couros’ EC&I 831 class, have a layer for enrolled participants and a layer for those who aren’t enrolled (which is what I was hoping would happen for your class).
I teach my online classes using Moodle (I have used Blackboard before)and as the instructor am currently feeling restricted by my VLE. In addition to technical issues of the hosting company (I can’t host it myself, and the site goes down inconsistently), I have to go into each class separately, the system doesn’t let me know when I get Messages which class the student is in, it’s awkward to set up anything “above” the individual sections (like synchronous office hours). As with Blackboard, I find myself linking out a lot (as Carrie notes is an option). Ultimately, I may use the VLE only for its handy gradebook and assignments functions, and maybe the asynchronous forums (I like Moodle’s nesting format), but not much else.
So thank you for pointing me to this post — it’s helping me reconsider whether I should throw up my hands and abandon VLEs all together (my typical response when they go wrong technically). I can think of a number of students who would be horrified to have their work read on the wider web, not only beginners but those who are insecure about their writing or scholarship. There is a confidence for these learners in being in the walled garden, where they’ll be less embarrassed to learn in front of others.