Learning in technology-supported learning environments is a growing trend, and new technological tools and software are increasingly being developed to support teaching and learning. The use of virtual reality (VR) in new learning environments is a major challenge for researchers, developers and teachers. More research is needed on how new technologies and different new learning environments can best support students and teachers in learning situations.
My research compared two different learning environments, a physical workshop and a VR class in the context of a forest machinery course and examined student motivation and autonomy in these environments, as well as students’ agency and affordances in the virtual environment. The results showed that students generally rated their autonomy higher in VR groups than in physical groups. Students perceived the VR learning environment as more useful and meaningful than the physical classroom, yet they felt that the traditional environment provided better positive control (structure) and goal setting. This could be explained by the lack of competence in a new environment (VR) as also discussed elsewhere.
Learning in VR requires skills and knowledge of the devices used to manage one’s learning. Technology alone is not enough to enable students to be independent and autonomous. The development of new learning environments should aim not only at improving learning outcomes but also at increasing student motivation and agency. Intrinsic motivation drives people to act purely to satisfy curiosity or the desire for control, while extrinsic motivation is based on rewards and consequences. In my research context, affordances supported students’ autonomy through meaningful interactions between teachers and students and promoted students’ agency impacting positively their motivation. Students’ intrinsic motivation increased significantly in the VR environment, whereas in the traditional environment there was no increase, and in the traditional environment, extrinsic motivation decreased even further.
Collaborative virtual learning environment, with teachers’ emotionally warm regulation through meaningful classroom interaction, can offer opportunities to study and practice working skills promoting student’s motivation and agency. The teacher’s role in supporting students’ autonomy and agency is significant, providing opportunities for participation, collaboration, and interaction, motivating students to act and take initiative in their own learning. Teacher guidance is needed to gradually increase students´ sense of autonomy and encouragement to take advantage of opportunities that the teachers believe will help them learn. Teachers need to monitor, evaluate and adapt different teaching methods to take advantage of the opportunities offered by technology.
When designing new virtual learning environments, it is important to consider which cognitive affordances best support the lesson objectives and the teaching approach in the new learning environment. Students should also receive more training in self-directed learning skills, not just in how to use the software. One option could be shared regulation, where the teacher allows the students to complete the task, guiding the students to manage the activity or ask for help when needed. However, it is crucial to consider the size and age of the groups and co-design the virtual learning environment with the teachers.
Agency and Cognitive Affordances in Technology Supported Learning Environment: Applying VR in Post-secondary level education and skill training