Exploring the Concept of Navigability for Virtual Learning Environments

  • Emmanuel Ehimare Isibor

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The use of virtual learning environments (VLEs) in Higher Education has brought about interesting implications both for learning and teaching. VLEs have provided the users with a mixed bag of benefits as well as challenges that are associated with their uses. This thesis presents an investigation into the User Experience of a VLE using a social science methodology in analysing the different users’ requirements of a VLE. The research was designed to explore how best to configure a VLE within an institution for an enhanced User Experience. The study which was conducted at Aberystwyth University with a diverse group of virtual learning environment (VLE) users, was designed as a mixed methods study based on the findings of a pilot study earlier conducted by the researcher at the same institution. Transcripts from the interviews of the main study with students, teaching staff, administrative staff, directors of studies and a member of the e-learning team were analysed according to the classic grounded theory methodological approach (Holton and Walsh, 2017). This involved the development of codes and their classification into categories and the choice of Navigability as a core category. Using the constant comparison technique, theoretical codes emerged that led to the development of a theoretical framework of Navigability for VLEs. The results revealed that Navigability is critical to User Experience with specific reference to Blackboard in Aberystwyth University. Users were found to have difficulties with finding materials and tools on the VLE due to poor navigation mechanisms inherent in the VLE. Some of the users complained of not knowing where to find certain functionalities, or things not being where they expected them to be. They preferred direct access rather than having to perform several clicks in order to locate features on the VLE. Kear (2007) noted that “it is important that VLEs have straightforward navigation, use clear terminology, and are based on structures and processes that make sense to students.” Though the results are similar, the work of Kear (2007) spanned four different universities and four VLEs, but only involved lecturers, while the study presented here was in a single university based on a single VLE but with a mixed group of students, teaching staff, administrative staff, directors of studies and the e-learning team. This has extended the work of Kear (2007) by not only confirming directly from students that navigation is an issue but that students also experience navigation problems based on how teaching staff use the VLE. It further revealed that staff experienced more navigation challenges owing to their primary roles as content creators. The resulting framework provided an explanation for the phenomenon surrounding the navigation experience of Blackboard users in Aberystwyth University. The most important finding is that the barriers to the use of VLEs have been better articulated in greater depth than existing knowledge base. This study offers some ways through which VLE developers in conjunction
with all the stakeholders in Higher Education can improve the navigation of VLEs in order to enrich the experience of users.
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  • Prifysgol Aberystwyth

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