Navigating the Shortcomings of Virtual Learning Environments Via Social Media

Navigating the Shortcomings of Virtual Learning Environments Via Social Media

Puvaneswary Murugaiah (School of Distance Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia) and Siew Hwa Yen (School of Distance Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJVPLE.2019070101


It is undeniable that the higher education landscape worldwide has changed with the emergence of virtual learning environments (VLEs). These systems offer learning space and resources for teachers and students regardless of time and place. Although they significantly contribute to the achievement of learning objectives and outcomes, their usage is generally limited. This article uncovers the shortcomings of the use of VLEs for language learning in several Malaysian institutions of higher learning. It also aims to highlight the use of social media in addressing the barriers. Adopting a qualitative approach, data were gathered via in-depth interviews. Employing the dimensions proposed by Chun, Kern and Smith, the hindrances related to VLEs were examined. The findings revealed that instructors faced obstacles linked to the technology, students' experience and expectations as well as language learning environment. Social media helped them in addressing these obstacles.
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1. Introduction

Educational technology within higher education has greatly impacted the teaching and learning landscape, challenging institutions to change their models of pedagogical practices. With the emergence of web technologies for instance, students participate, collaborate and interact with one another; actively engaging in co-creating knowledge. Instructors on the other hand, promote networked social activities and provide broader opportunities for more independent and cooperative learning for their students. The adoption of such progressive technology creates more fluid learning spaces making learning more distributed; thus blurring the lines between online and offline teaching and learning practices.

The call for increased and efficient adoption of technologies has prompted higher institutions of learning to design their own virtual learning environment (VLE). Its features include the creation and sharing of learning resources; facilitation of interactions among students as well as between students and instructors; administration of learning tasks and assessments as well as management of course and students (Cavus, 2015; Dobre, 2015). Despite its benefits, the VLE is not fully utilized by academics for instructional purposes. Although factors related to the behaviour and attitude of users are key contributors to this problem, in many instances it is the position of VLE in the pedagogical context that determines its use.

Due in part to this, the employment of social media by the academic community is fast growing. Social technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have especially become an integral part of students’ lives. In fact, the demands for and the potency of these social technologies have played a role in the shift towards a participatory and collaborative learning model in higher education (delaat & Prinsen, 2014). However, the use of social media is yet to be readily embraced by the academic community.

Building on the discussion so far, identifying and understanding the barriers for effective instructional practices using VLEs as well as the use of social media to check them is critical. The present study therefore, probes not only the technology but also the environment in which the system is set. Additionally, it examines the role of social media in circumventing issues hindering the effective use of VLEs. Although research on VLEs and the various uses of different social media tools in instruction is abundant, there is paucity in research on how the limitations of VLEs are checked by the use of social media especially in language teaching. Very few studies focussed on both VLEs and social media. In one, the potential of Facebook to complement an LMS was explored (Wang, Woo, Quek, yang and Liu, 2011) while in the other the possibility of replacing LMS with Facebook as a course communication tool was examined (Shroeder and Greenbowe, 2009).

This paper describes a segment of the data gathered from a larger study on the use of web technologies in English language teaching at Malaysian universities. Using a qualitative approach, the current study examines the shortcomings faced by language instructors in using VLEs in four Malaysian public universities. It also investigates how they used social media to check these barriers. It is anticipated that the findings of the study will help not only instructors but also institution administrators to understand the constraints faced by instructors and the role of social media in mitigating them. Additionally, they can evaluate and upgrade the effectiveness of the VLE systems. Furthermore, the study will contribute to literature on the emerging debate of social media adoption by HEIs. It can shed more light on the position of social media as an addition to VLEs or as a course management tool.

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