User Interface Design for Virtual Environments: Challenges and Advances

User Interface Design for Virtual Environments: Challenges and Advances

Badrul Khan (McWeadon Education, USA)
Indexed In: SCOPUS
Release Date: December, 2011|Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 375
ISBN13: 9781613505168|ISBN10: 1613505167|EISBN13: 9781613505175|DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-516-8


The design of various virtual environments should be based on the needs of a diverse population of users around the globe. Interface design should be user centric and should strive for making the user's interaction as simple, meaningful, and efficient as possible.

User Interface Design for Virtual Environments: Challenges and Advances focuses on challenges that designers face in creating interfaces for users of various virtual environments. Chapters included in this book address various critical issues that have implications for user interface design from a number of different viewpoints. This book is written for professionals who want to improve their understanding of challenges associated with user interface design issues for globally-dispersed users in various virtual environments.

Topics Covered

The many academic areas covered in this publication include, but are not limited to:

  • Challenges of Human Computer Interaction Design
  • Designing Mobile Learning
  • Locomotion Interfaces
  • Ontology-Driven Content Creation
  • Persistence in Virtual Worlds
  • Reliable Multi-User Interfaces
  • Social Cues and User Interfaces
  • Speech Input for Virtual Environments
  • Virtual Learning Environments
  • Virtual Worlds Research

Table of Contents and List of Contributors

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In the information digital society, the advancement of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has created a broadened scope of sharing innovations globally by digital citizens. In this global digital society, people use electronic devices in almost everything they do: from brushing their teeth to driving a car. In this fast moving digital society, people are encountering newer features associated with emerging technologies including (but not limited to): computers, all kinds of appliances and machines, mobile communication devices, software applications, social media, and websites. With all these advances in emerging technologies coupled with fast paced lifestyles, people are increasingly overwhelmed with various electronic devices and services. What do users of these various digital devices and services really need? They need useable and adaptable interfaces to operate in these virtual environments.

When I was asked by IGI Publishing to edit this book on user interface design, I was very excited, honored, and intrigued. I was excited and honored because the themes and the purpose of the book fall under my forthcoming publication plan which is to author/edit eight different books using the eight dimensions of the Virtual Learning Framework (see below).   I was intrigued as I do not claim to be an in expert in interface design but as it is one of the eight dimensions. However, it took some convincing from the publisher and several of my colleagues who convinced me that my research and interest on critical issues associated with the design of open and distributed learning environments are definitely useful to the user interface design for virtual environments.

Since 1997, I have been studying “What does it take to provide meaningful Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) for learners worldwide? Through my research I found that numerous factors help to create a meaningful VLE, and many of these factors are systemically interrelated and interdependent. I clustered these factors into eight dimensions (institutional, management, technological, pedagogical, ethical considerations, interface design, resource support, and evaluation) and created A Framework for Virtual Learning ( Designing interfaces for VLEs cannot be accomplished by addressing only the issues relevant to the interface design dimension. One must recognize the interrelationships and interconnectedness with the issues of the seven other dimensions of the Framework. Therefore, I have included chapters focusing on comprehensive issues of challenges and advances of VLEs in this book.

To some, the term “virtual environment” may sound as if it applies only to 3-dimensional virtual worlds, so I feel it is important to clarify that, in this book, VLEs include both two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional (3D) virtual spaces. Therefore, chapters in the book are inclusive of both kinds of virtual environments.

I am very fortunate to have researchers and practitioners involved in VLEs as contributors of this book. As the editor of this book, I took an open and democratic approach to solicit contributions. I sent e-mail messages to potential authors and also cross-posted a message to several listservs soliciting contributions for the book. As a result, I put together this book by incorporating works of talented individuals with unique backgrounds from around the globe. It should also be noted that there are many significant people involved in doing research in virtual learning who are not included in this book.

The purpose of this book is to provide the reader with a broad understanding of issues relevant to user interface design (one dimension of the Framework) of virtual environments. Chapters included in this book attempt to address various critical issues that have implications for user interface design, and offer a variety of points of view on those issues. Below, I present a brief description of each chapter of the book:

1. In the introductory chapter entitled “Virtual learning environments: Design factors and issues,” I argue that designing interfaces for VLEs cannot be accomplished by addressing only the issues raised based on the interface design factors. Other VLE factors (i.e., institutional, management, technological, pedagogical, ethical, resource support, and evaluation) are systemically interrelated and interdependent with interface design factors. Therefore, for a meaningful VLE design, we must recognize the interrelationships and interconnectedness of factors in addressing issues conducive to learning.

2. Gupta and Chen (Understanding evolution of virtual worlds research: A content analytic approach) present six dominant themes of research on virtual worlds and then content-analyzes extant literature to show how several themes have emerged in research on virtual worlds. This presents unique insights into perceived relative importance of impact of different aspects of virtual worlds on individuals and organizations alike.

3. Curnow, Henson and Wisher (User interface designs, task categories and training) focus on a preliminary framework for learner centered user interface design across a variety of training categories.  The overarching premise of the framework is that designs that are compatible with the psychology of learning promote learning and ultimately performance better than those that do not.  The framework results in a notional configuration of 27 learner centered training interfaces, which are analyzed for their relevance to user interface design. 

4. Carroll (Exploring past trends and current challenges of human computer interaction (HCI) design: What does this mean for the design of virtual environments?) investigates the potential of aesthetics in the design of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). In particular, it aims to provide a means by which aesthetics can be applied in photorealistic virtual reality (VR) to create ‘engaging’ experiences.

5. Ciampi, Coronato, De Pietro & Gallo (Architectural models for reliable multi-user interfaces) describe a system for providing interaction interoperability among multi-user interfaces. Rather than focusing on the de-coupling of input devices from interaction techniques and from interaction tasks, they suggest integrating interactive systems at higher level through an interface standardization. The chapter also presents a case study in which an agent-based middleware is used to support developers in the interconnection of monolithic applications.

6. Santos (Challenges in designing the user interface for educators managing recommendations in an e-learning context) presents the user centred design process of the administration tool for educators using a recommender system in virtual learning environments. The aim of this tool is to facilitate the involvement of educators when personalizing the learning experience for their students, in order to make the educative process as simple, meaningful and efficient as possible.

7. Özel (Utilizing cognitive resources in user interface designs) focuses on multiple representations and cognitive perspective about presenting information via different modes in user interface design. Research studies indicate that providing accurate representations increases users’ recognition of information. Moreover, presentation of one concept in multiple modes improves concept acquisition. Developing an understanding of how concept acquisition occurs requires knowledge about cognitive information processing and brain functioning.

8. Stedmon (Designing usable speech input for virtual environments) provides guidelines which are derived from a number of sources and would appear to reinforce widespread ‘common sense’ conventions and even anecdotal evidence for speech interface use.  He emphasize on the need to generate a much better understanding, from a user-centered perspective, and better organization of guidelines to make them more universally applicable. 

9. Gamor (Exploiting the power of persistence for learning in virtual worlds) addresses the criticality of exploiting this attribute in order to design the optimal user interface for a meaningful, lasting learning experience in a virtual world.

10. Badie, Kharrat, Mahmoudi, Mirian, Ghazi & Babazadeh (Ontology-driven creation of contents: Making efficient interaction between organizational users and their surrounding tasks) discuss a framework to create contents for helping organizational tasks based on an inter-play between the ontologies of the key segments and the problem context. The focal point in this regard is using the linguistically significant notions to be adjusted separately for each key segment once a certain organizational task is faced.

11. Patel and Vij (Unconstrained walking plane as locomotion interface to virtual environment) discuss the design of a locomotion interface to the virtual environment for spatial learning is aimed at providing unconstrained walking plane for building improved cognitive map and thereby enhancing mobility skills of persons with limited vision. The structure of the interface, and control mechanism of the device are presented and discussion of advantages and limitations of the interface is given.

12. Quinton (Redefining the role and purpose of learning) presents a philosophical treatise on the design of electronic learning environments in the future. The uniqueness of the theory of learning to emerge from this exploration lies in its capacity to dynamically adapt and evolve in response to the changing expectations of the teacher and the changing learning needs of the student.

13. De Kervenoael, Bisson and Palmer (Are web designers resisting the inclusion of social cues when creating website user interface?) discuss how Web designers through their daily practices, (i) adopt recursive, adaptive and resisting behavior regarding the inclusion of social cues online and (ii) shape the socio-technical power relationship between designers and other stakeholders. Five vignettes case study with expert individual web designers are used. Findings point out at three types of emerging resistance namely: market driven resistance, ideological resistance and functional resistance.

14. Ally (Designing mobile learning for the user) discusses learning strategies for mobile learning, and provides several design principles for the development of mobile learning materials to maximize the amount learned and to meet the needs of the user.

15. Railean (Issues and challenges associated with the design of electronic textbook) investigates issues associated with the design of electronic textbook and describes metasystems learning design (MLD). This paradigm argues the transition from closed pedagogical systems to more open educational systems. The core element of MLD is the pedagogy of competence development triggered electronic textbook. The functionality of MLD is assured by a flexible and dynamic instructional strategy. This new strategy provides an operating framework both for teachers and for learners through self-regulation assessment.

16. Collins (Using a blueprint in the design of instruction for virtual environments) discusses the instructional design aspects of designing learning in virtual worlds. It presents a relatively straightforward instructional design framework that stresses the alignment of learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessment/feedback.

17. Vallance (Design and robots for learning in virtual worlds)states that the meme of the physical ‘uni-versity’ is changing and moving swiftly, due mostly to virtual technological developments, towards the ‘multi-versity’ where Higher Education Institutes will exist in both the real world and a virtual space. This chapter summarizes the theoretical and technical progress of research in the iterative, leaner centered design of virtual tools and associated tasks for evidencing the processes of learning (witnessed as measurements of six cognitive processes and four knowledge dimensions) of participants communicating the programming LEGO robots within a virtual world.

18. Tyczkowski, Bauman, Susan Gallagher-Lepak, Vandenhouten and Reilly (An interface design evaluation of courses in a nursing program using an e-learning framework: A case study) present a case study that uses a checklist of interface design issues to conduct  a formal analysis of the five core online courses taught in the BSN@HOME collaborative. Such an analysis was aimed at identifying strengths and areas for improvement of the program.

It is important to note that user interface design for newer and constantly emerging virtual environments will be challenging. However, sharing of knowledge among VLE researchers and practitioners about “what works and what does not work” provides useful guidance for advancing the field. Various chapters included in this book are not by any means exhaustive. As we learn more about VLE design, we will make this information available to the readers at Please email me at with any new articles, references, resources, and programs about the design of VLE so these may be included as resources on the website. 

Hopefully, this collection of ideas and issues, discussed by international authors, will help you understand various aspects of the meaningful design of VLEs and provide valuable guidance in creating VLEs for your target audience. I would appreciate hearing your comments regarding this book.

Badrul H. Khan

Author(s)/Editor(s) Biography

Dr. Badrul H. Khan, is a world-renowned educator, author, speaker, and consultant in the field of distance education. He has17 years of experience in developing and managing distance education programs. Professor Khan has the credit of first coining the phrase Web-based instruction and popularizing the concept through his 1997 best-selling Web-Based Instruction book which paved the way for the new field of e-learning. His Managing E-Learning book translated into 14 languages. He contributed to the development of US virtual education policies organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Naval Postgraduate School, the National Educational Technology Plan by the US Department of Education and the Review of Joint Professional Military Education organized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He served as contributing and consulting editor of nine prestigious international learning journals & magazines. He is a past president of the International Division of the Association for Educational and Communication Technology (AECT). He authored and coauthored 11 books/manuals and over 100 papers in the field of e-learning and distance learning. He delivered keynote speeches in more than 50 international e-learning and distance learning conferences. He is the founder of McWeadon Education (a professional development institution). He previously served as the founding Director of the Educational Technology Leadership (ETL) graduate cohort program at The George Washington University, the founding Director of the Educational Technology (ET) graduate program at the University of Texas, Brownsville and an Instructional Designer and Evaluation Specialist in the School of Medicine at Indiana University, Indianapolis. Dr. Khan has served as a consultant to distance education, learning development and human resource development projects at: (a) the World Bank, (b) the US Federal Government, (c) the Asian Development Bank, and (d) various academic institutions and corporations in the U.S. and throughout the world. For more info, please visit his personal Website: