Virtual Reality Learning in Special Education and Massive Online Learning Settings


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date6 Feb 2018


In 1993, Jonathan Steuer pointed out that ”the key to defining Virtual Reality (VR) in terms of human experience rather than technological hardware is the concept of presence.” Since then, VR has brought new opportunities and challenges to various domains, including education and learning. Virtual Reality Environment (VRE), the imagined or simulated virtual environment delivered via VR enabling technologies, is a highly interactive and manipulable but safe environment aims to provide users the feeling of presence. In such a highly interactive environment with great fidelity, users can freely explore and try out their ideas without worrying about the safety issues or other concerns. By adopting appropriate pedagogical designs, VREs are very promising for facilitating education. In this thesis, we present a series of studies that aim to provide virtual reality enabled learning to much broader learners than previous Virtual Reality Learning Environment (VRLE) did. Special computer software and hardware are developed and employed to facilitate the objectives. The thesis aims to shed light on three key research questions regarding VRLEs - (1) how to design, engineer and implement VRLEs with corresponding instructional plan by employing appropriate pedagogical theories and practices, especially when the VRLE is designed for mass audiences; (2) how to facilitate learning in VRLE using sensors and interactive devices, especially the adaptation of sensors, devices and corresponding computer algorithms for learners with special learning needs; (3) how to facilitate the knowledge and skill transfer from virtual worlds to real life and how to measure the effectiveness of such transferring using computer-assisted methods. To this end, three empirical studies are conducted, with the targeted learners ranging from teenagers and young adults with Severe Intellectual Disabilities (SID), to school-aged children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and to a massive amount of learners of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Both quantitative and qualitative analysis from these three studies suggest that with careful design and smart engineering, VRLEs are not only feasible to be delivered in various settings but are also effective to help learners achieving the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs).

    Research areas

  • Virtual reality, Human-computer interaction, Educational innovations, Massive open online course, Special education needs