The Theoretical Framework for Designing Desktop Virtual Reality-Based Learning Environments

Article excerpt

This article describes the instructional design theoretical foundation of a desktop virtual reality-based learning environment aimed at complementing the current novice driver education system in Malaysia. It provides an elaboration of how various components of the learning environment are designed to support this theoretical underpinning that fits to the new paradigm of instruction. This is followed by the suggestion of a theoretical framework that can be used to guide the design of other virtual reality-based learning environments. This framework can also act as an initial structure that is to be further refined and/or revised, as a robust model model to guide the design and development of a learning environment using this technology is still unavailable at the present time.


The benefits of using three-dimensional virtual environment technology, commonly known as virtual reality, in education have increasingly gained recognition from many researchers and educational practitioners. Virtual reality is described as a cutting-edge technology that allows learners to step through the computer screen into a three-dimensional interactive environment. Although virtual reality has been recognised as an impressive learning tool, the need for expensive head-mounted displays, gloves, and high-end computer systems has somehow restricted its uses. However, today virtual reality systems can run by affordable personal computers. Human interaction with the generated virtual worlds can be performed using conventional input devices, such as the mouse and keyboard without introducing any additional peripherals. In short, the availability of relatively low cost desktop virtual reality system has made this technology feasible to be widely used. Indeed, according to Youngblut (1998), this nonimmersive technology is much more mature and ubiquitously used in many different application areas rather than the immersive technology. This article focuses on this particular type of virtual reality technology.

Virtual reality is predicted to be the most significant technological transformation in educational media. Numerous researchers such as Roussos, Moher, Vasilakis, and Barnes (1999), Whitelock, Brna, and Holland (1996), Winn (1993), and Grove (1996) have found that virtual reality technology offers unique capabilities that are able to provide significant and positive support for education. Some of these capabilities include the ability to allow learners to visualise the three-dimensional representation of a problem, to visualise abstract concepts, to articulate their understanding of a phenomenon through their development of virtual environments, to visualise the dynamic relationships in a system, to obtain an infinite number of viewpoints of a virtual environment, and to visit and interact with events that are unavailable or unfeasible due to distance, time, or safety factors. The power of virtual reality as a tool for experiencing prebuilt worlds as well as for world building by learners, suggests that the technology will be widely applicable for education. Moreover, with the current development of virtual reality on the World Wide Web (WWW or Web), other relevant information from the Web could also be linked to the virtual representation of the problem. Indeed, the integration of the Internet and virtual reality has enabled us to manipulate the benefits offered by both technologies.


Malaysia is one of the developing countries that is experiencing a gradual increase in road accidents. Statistics released by the Road Transport Department (RTD) of Malaysia shows that the number of road accidents has been increasing for the last 10 years. This is not limited as a local phenomenon. The World Health Organization (2002) has reported that road traffic crashes will account for the third highest cause of the global burden of disease, jumping from its current ranking of ninth, and developing countries will be largely responsible for this predicted sharp rise. …