Education and Information Technologies

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 277-289

First online:

Perfect presence: What does this mean for the design of virtual learning environments?

  • Denise WhitelockAffiliated withInstitute of Educational Technology, The Open University, Walton Hall Email author 
  • , Daniela RomanoAffiliated withComputer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds
  • , Anne JelfsAffiliated withBehavioural Studies, University College Northampton
  • , Paul BrnaAffiliated withComputer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds

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One of the advantages of building a virtual reality system is that it allows students to enter new worlds which in these instances include trips to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, a field visit to an Oak Wood and a close encounter in a 3D maze. In all these environments the factors affecting a sense of ‘being there’ or presence was investigated. Enhanced audio feedback increased a subjective sense of presence but did not increase students' conceptual learning scores. We have also found that a sense of social presence enhanced the notion of ‘being there’ together with measures of collaboration. However ‘being there’ can take its toll on students and our findings suggest it imposes a cognitive overload. Where students have a choice, they try and reduce this overload by asking for conceptual tools to assist them in their learning tasks. The studies reported in this paper provide some benchmark data about these issues which deserve further investigation if we are to design effective virtual environments for conceptual learning.

virtual reality presence conceptual learning collaborative virtual environments conceptual tools