Green Technologies Enabling Virtual Learning Environments

Green Technologies Enabling Virtual Learning Environments

Rochell R. McWhorter (College of Business and Technology, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX, USA) and Julie A. Delello (College of Education and Psychology, The University of Texas at Tyler, Tyler, TX, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTHD.2016100104


The ubiquity of the Internet has created options for educators and business professionals to expand learning opportunities through virtual learning environments (VLEs). This article discusses how green technology trends and practices such as Cloud computing, 3D printing, big data, digital badges, The Internet of Things, and real-time group meetings support green initiatives by reducing time and costs, while increasing energy efficiency. Furthermore, the impact of these emerging technologies have on the environment in regards to energy, renewable resources, recycling, and e-wastes are discussed. As technology has quickly evolved into more sophisticated forms, it has opened the options for educators and business professionals to expand learning opportunities into virtual learning spaces referred to as VLEs in this article. Major technology trends discussed that are disrupting the status quo are Cloud Computing, 3D printing, Big Data, Digital Badges, the Internet of Things, and the management of manufacturing and recycling of device e-waste. Implications and Future Research Directions are given.
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As virtual learning has come of age, the utilization of green technologies has been posited as a way for organizations and individuals to be efficient in time, currency and resources while promoting virtual learning environments (VLEs). According to Saxena (2015), a primary objective with utilizing green initiatives is “to reduce the environmental impact of industrial processes along with the growth in population resulting in innovative technologies” (p. 333). This article focuses on how existing technologies such as cloud computing, big data, mobile devices, digital badges and online resumes, 3D printing, real-time group meetings (RTGMs), and virtual and blended professional conferences can be utilized within higher education and within industry. Each will be examined for their potential for utilizing green technologies to lower costs, improve efficiency, and lesson environmental impact while promoting VLEs.

Cloud Computing

Across both education and industry, one emergent application changing the computer industry is the use of cloud technology. In a recent issue of Forbes, Satell (2014) remarked:

The cloud is now disrupting every industry it touches. The world’s most advanced technologies are not only available to large enterprises who can afford to maintain an expensive IT staff, but can be accessed by anybody with an internet connection. That’s a real game changer.

Cloud computing is defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as “a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction” (Brown, 2011). Essentially, cloud computing is the storage and access of data (i.e. documents, presentations, photos) over the Internet (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.

“Cloud computing” by Sam Johnston using Omnigroup’s Omnigraffle and Inkscape. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons at

There are numerous examples of cloud applications available on the Web, each offering different storage volumes at variable costs. See Table 1 for a comparison of the benefits of six of the most popular and inexpensive cloud applications.

Table 1.
Comparison of various cloud computing platforms
Amazon Cloud of free Web storage space. The Amazon Cloud provides the user with the ability to play a wide-range of music.
Apple iCloud of storage; Allows the user to access the same file across multiple devices and applications. to 10 GB Storage of free storage; 1,000 apps are integrated with Box Online and files can be shared and collaborated; Box includes customer-managed encryption.
Google of storage the documents can be shared and collaborated in real time with others. One unique feature of Drive is that files can also be made available for viewing offline
Microsoft Dropboxwww.dropbox.comDropbox gives users 2GB free (up to 16GB with referrals). Has become a prevalent storage application across the world. Dropbox allows users to share files with anyone through a URL link.
Microsoft OneDrive of storage on any device; allows for the joint creation, collaboration, and editing across documents/folders. For businesses, Office Online or Office client apps enable real-time collaboration and secure file sharing.

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