Education Virtual Learning Environments
Diane Jass Ketelhut, Brian Nelson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0288


Virtual learning environments in education describe a wide array of technological platforms whose main purpose is to extend learning beyond physical space. These environments allow learning to take place outside of the classroom, even if the student is physically located in the classroom. Through virtual learning environments, students can access mentoring, experience other cultures, and explore different environments. Some facilitate teaching through learning management systems. Historically, virtual learning environments encompassed radio and television. Now, virtual learning environments are digital, accessed through web- or app-based platforms and thus, in the last twenty years, they have become as ubiquitous and diverse as computers. Examples vary from distance learning platforms to computer-based serious games to app-based augmented reality simulations. In general, virtual learning environments provide interactivity between teacher and student or between student and content. Given the breadth of the topic, this article will primarily focus on immersive virtual learning environments, games, and simulations.

General Overviews

Because of the breadth of this topic, it is rare to find a general overview that encompasses the topic as a whole. Instead, these overviews concentrate on specific aspects and forms of virtual learning environments. In the US, the National Research Council 2011 constitutes a review of using games and simulations to learn science. More generally albeit on the same topic, Plass, et al. 2015 and Clark, et al. 2016 discuss design of and learning with games. Zimmerman 2009 offers a framework for gaming as 21st-century literacy.

  • Clark, D. B., E. E. Tanner-Smith, and S. S. Killingsworth. 2016. Digital games, design, and learning: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research 86.1: 79–122.

    DOI: 10.3102/0034654315582065

    This article presents a meta-analysis of sixty-eight empirical journal articles on games, published between 2000 and 2012. Effects of various design characteristics are investigated.

  • National Research Council. 2011. Learning science through computer games and simulations. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

    DOI: 10.17226/13078

    This report presents a comprehensive overview of the state of games and simulations for science education in the United States. Chapters cover formal and informal learning, motivation, and assessment, concluding with a research agenda.

  • Plass, J. L., B. D. Homer, and C. K. Kinzer. 2015. Foundations of game-based learning. Educational Psychologist 50.4: 258–283.

    DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2015.1122533

    This overview of game-based learning focuses primarily on an examination of theoretical models that seeks to explain how games may foster learning and on the design principles that arise from the theoretical models.

  • Zimmerman, E. 2009. Gaming literacy: Game design as a model for literacy in the twenty-first century. In The video game theory reader 2. Edited by B. Perron and M. J. P. Wolf, 23–32. New York: Routledge.

    Zimmerman presents a framework for thinking about game design as a form of new literacy that includes elements of systems, play, and design.

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