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Literature review

Page history last edited by Ashwini Datt 12 years, 11 months ago

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. Volume 2, Number 1: Pedagogy, Education and Innovation in Virtual Worlds



Defining virtual learning environments

Virtual learning environments are not restricted to the use of web 3D or virtual reality technology or even the web. (e.g. online communication, storytelling using print media etc) The defining points are the special characteristics of these environments.  A categorised list of virtual worlds is given on the virtual world review website http://www.virtualworldsreview.com/info/categories.shtml.


Characteristics of virtual learning environments

  1. virtual learning environments are designed information spaces

According to Dillenbourg et al. (2002), there are number of functional requirements for learning environments that in turn determine the suitability of a virtual space as a learning environment. Some of these functional requirements are: using information in educational interactions, multi-authoring, indicating information source, maintaining information, following technical evolution and sharing information with the world. They also contend that "Today's use of 'virtual learning environment' is not restricted to well-structured information spaces..." (p3) but as content management becomes an important issue, this criterion will "become more salient" (p3).


  1. virtual learning environments are social spaces that facilitate interaction (educational?) that turn these spaces into places

"...a set of Web pages does not constitute a virtual learning environment unless there is social interaction about or around the information." (Dillenbourg et al., 2002, p5). Some examples of such interactions include, synchronous and asynchronous communication and audio/video materials. Compared to other information spaces, virtual spaces are unique in that they are 'populated' ie "...users are inside the information space and see a representation of themselves and/or others in the space" (p5) which is a stimulus for interaction.


  1. virtual spaces (information/social aspects) are explicitly represented

The main issue is not so much the representation of the information but how participants (students?) are using this information to effectively learn. As stated by Dillenbourg et al. (2002), these representations e.g. web 3D are often used for motivational reasons because it is assumed that "nice representations trigger positive attitudes towards the environment" (p6) which may not always be the case but these virtual representations may also have other impact. For example, navigation as in city news http://pubs.media.mit.edu/pubs/papers/CityOfNews.pdf. The most important factor is the ease of use and the look and feel of the virtual space with the main design concern being the correct representation of information for specific purposes.


  1. participants (students?) not only actively engage with content but are actors 

In a virtual learning environment, the participants (students?) are members and contributors of social and information space in contrast to other constructivist environments. "...the notion of a learning activity in virtual learning environments refers to something richer than in individual courseware, closer to the notion of a project." (Dillenbourg et al., 2002, p8). Most of the classroom based activities such as writing can be facilitated using virtual environments where the students are writing for a wider audience and not for the teacher's eyes only. All the work that leads upto this final piece of writing can be effectively integrated within the virtual environment e.g. peer review of the writing by fellow students, sharing of informal notes, access to references provided by teacher, scheduling tasks etc. Dillenbourg et al. (2002) also refer to Freinet's project-based pedagogy and claim that "Many Web-based environments re-instantiate, in more recent technology" his principles with the use of tools and a "concern for multi-disciplinarity" (p8)


  1. virtual learning environments are not restricted to distance education

Virtual environments influence the way teachers teach and thereby contribute to renew teaching methods. Internet based activities mostly enrich presential learning activities and not replace them. These enrichments can just be an add on e.g. in vocational education/training, university education and lifelong training.


  1. virtual learning environments integrate multiple tools

Just like a physical learning environment, a virtual learning environment integrates a variety of tools supporting multiple functions: information, communication, collaboration, learning and management. Integrations can be technical or pedagogical. Web technologies have increased technical integration but a higher level of integration is achieved when applications share or exchange data structures. E.g. help prompts in a software maybe a technical aspect but it leads to feedback that can be considered a pedagogical aspect, therefore technical integration can support pedagogical integration.


  1. virtual environments overlap with the physical environment

Many of the virtual spaces include activities that match that of the physical environment such as non-computerised learning resources, non computer mediated interactions and variety of activities such as field trips etc. In reality, there is no need to differentiate or draw a line between the definitions for physical and virtual environments but to integrate them.


Differentiating between virtual reality and virtual worlds/web 3D

Virtual reality deals with virtual environments that enable participants to immerse into a man-made world. According to Winn (1993), the four conditions that are necessary for immersive virtual reality are:

  1. Head mounted devices with a wide field of view so inworld objects can be detected by peripheral (at the sides) and foveal (hollow) vision
  2. tracking the position and attitude of the participant's body
  3. transducers that interpret participant's behaviour as commands to the computer
  4. negligible delay in the reponse of the virtual environment to participant's movements and actions

As a result of the total immersion, there is cognitive presence and a sense of reality associated with the virtual world (Winn, 1993).

More recently, virtual reality has become a term applied more widely to desktop applications such as Second life. According to Winn (1993), these are not truly immersive environments hence do not 'engender presence' but do offer a less costly solution that can be used in education. He goes on further to explicitly distinguish between the first person experience possible in immersive worlds similar to our experiences in the real world to the third person experience in a desktop based virtual environment. He states that first person experiences are "natural, non-reflective, private, and predominate in our everyday interactions with the world" whereas interacting with a computer through its interface using a keypad or mouse is a third person experience that is objective and includes the intervention of the conscious thought and reflection. The interface is considered a boundary between us (the subjects) and the machine (the object).


Educational potential of virtual learning environments

The evolution of theory guiding the design and use of technology based educational systems:

  • first generation-assumptions on computer based education were linked to behaviourism
  • second generation-shift from the instructional designer's emphasis on content to the message designer's emphasis on how information is presented to students due to advances in cognitive science and the consideration of multiple intelligences
  • third generation-nature of interaction between the student and the instruction is paramount in learning and is closely linked to cognitive science (see Anderson's ACT and Merrill's instructional transaction theory)
  • fourth generation (now)-

Work in progress...



Technologies behind the design and functionalities of virtual learning environments

A comparative analysis of the tools by the Croquet team at George Mason University.


Comparative analysis of web3D tools by deByl and Taylor (2007).


Review of virtual worlds http://www.virtualworldsreview.com/



Educational potential of virtual learning environments



Some foundations for second life pedagogy http://connect.educause.edu/blog/HiredEd/somefoundationsforsecondl/44785?time=1212096591


Helpful resource for second life presentations http://www.emergingonlinelearningtechnology.org/node/53


Second life edu http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/ict/sl_tandl/


An institutional checklist for Second lIfe course offerings



This is based on the framework for elearning created by Badrul Khan http://badrulkhan.com/








Comments (1)

igirault said

at 9:52 am on Jun 10, 2008

If you are interested by the virtual laboratories, there is a recent issue (February 2008) of IEEE transactions on education that deals with virtual lab. Enjoy your reading! Isabelle

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