This session surveys research published on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in higher education, 2014-2018. The three, specific questions posed by the research are: what is the pattern of academic journal articles on VLEs over the period 2014-2018?; what can be deduced about VLE scholarship in higher education from published work over the period?; and, what areas of enquiry are under-explored in research on VLEs? The research sample comprised 100, peer-reviewed, academic journal articles.
The research showed most scholarship on VLEs is produced in affluent countries, is quantitative, focused on students, and on the micro-level of learning and teaching, does not have a clear theoretical focus, and does not specify which brand of VLE is used. Seventy-seven articles included students in the research. Only a small number looked at VLEs as part of national higher education systems, or as validations or refutations of particular theoretical perspectives. Furthermore, research on VLEs was focused in journals relating to technology enhanced learning rather than being diffused more widely through Education journals, suggesting VLE research is of more interest to a niche community than to educators as a whole. Over half the articles did not specify which brand of VLE was used.
The research argues there are opportunities for more theory-based approaches to VLEs. There are also opportunities for more qualitative approaches to data gathering and analysis, and for research focusing on instructors. There are also opportunities to explore in-depth interactions on VLEs, using content analysis. Finally, there are opportunities for greater diversity in the distribution of VLE scholarship. VLEs are embedded technologies in higher education but research on their use is weighted towards particular methodological approaches (quantitative), towards particular stakeholders (students) and towards affluent countries. There is more to talk about when we talk about VLEs.