A Study of University Students' Adoption of 3D Online Immersive Worlds

Reza Ghanbarzadeh, Amir Hossein Ghapanchi
InSITE 2022  •  2022  •  pp. 013
Aim/Purpose:
The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of five factors on the user acceptance of Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (3DVWs) in higher education. Another objective of the study was to investigate the effects of the use of 3DVWs on five variables relevant to positive outcomes for higher education students.

Background:
Three-Dimensional Virtual Worlds (3DVW) are of considerable importance and potential for the creation of the next generation of teaching and learning environments. There has been a tremendous interest in the educational communities in applying virtual environments for teaching and learning, and this technology has been largely adopted to favour educational settings. With the increasing development of 3DVW technologies in the education sector, two uncertainties have emerged with respect to higher education that significantly influence the applicability of the technology in the field: user acceptance of the technology and educational benefits of the technology for both individuals and institutions. Thus, this study examined the relationship between various factors and the user acceptance of 3DVWs in higher education as well as the relationship between the application of 3DVWs in higher education and positive educational outcomes.

Methodology:
By conducting a quantitative study, an extensive research model was developed by which 21 hypotheses were examined to assess the relationships between 12 variables. In order to evaluate the hypotheses, an online survey with 32 questions was developed and distributed among the participants. The questionnaire was developed to analyse the relationship between independent and dependent constructs of the research model. By applying a purposive convenience sampling technique, 135 undergraduate students enrolled in a first-year elective course participated in the survey. The PLS-SEM method was used to analyse the relationships between variables based on the hypothesised hypotheses. Second Life was used as the primary 3DVW environment for the research experiment in this study.

Contribution:
This study is among the first to conduct a quantitative method by developing an extensive research model to examine both antecedents and consequences of the application of 3DVWs in higher education. The research model examined several self-developed variables relevant to the antecedents and consequences of user acceptance of 3DVWs that had not been defined or examined previously in this field. The study takes 3DVW engagement into account, which is a variable associated with continuous use of the technology and deeper involvement with the technology. This study contributes to the research and practitioner body of knowledge by introducing various factors significant in preparing a distance learning environment and activities that can be adapted in higher education.

Findings:
The findings suggest the effectiveness of ease of use, usefulness, enjoyment, and visual attractiveness of a 3DVW-based learning environment on user acceptance of the technology. Findings also suggest that the application of 3DVWs has a significant impact on student satisfaction, learning outcome, retention, course engagement, and students’ graduate outcome. The study confirms that the computer self-efficacy of higher education students does not have a positive impact on the acceptance of 3DVWs.

Recommendations for Practitioners:
Curriculum designers and developers should consider designing easy-to-use and user-friendly virtual learning environments and should make aesthetic design decisions to create appealing learning environments to attract students’ attention. A 3DVW-based learning environment needs to be realistic to make students experience a sense of presence within the environment. Increased enjoyment, pleasure, and playfulness of the virtual learning environment contribute to a higher level of adoption of 3DVWs among students. For higher education institutions, the costs of developing and maintaining a virtual learning environment and implementing a teaching and learning programme are very low in comparison with a traditional face-to-face education system. This technology provides great capabilities for collaboration, teamwork, and networking on a worldwide scale.

Recommendations for Researchers:
Further studies are required to investigate the various factors impacting user acceptance and/or positive outcomes of user acceptance of the technology from different perspectives. Using the technology for different courses, implementing different teaching and learning methods, and developing creative activities in the virtual environment might contribute to new findings in the field. This study could be extended by applying the technology in educational settings other than higher education, such as K–12. New studies could also explore other aspects of 3DVWs which were not part of the case study, such as the implementation of the technology on virtual reality, augmented reality, and smartphones.

Impact on Society:
The study would be beneficial for higher education institutions worldwide to regulate the key factors that affect students’ entrancement of 3DVWs as well as the positive outcomes of user acceptance of this cutting-edge technology for students.

Future Research:
This study could be a starting point for future research focusing on various aspects of the application of 3DVW technology in education. Future studies could identify and investigate other variables associated with user acceptance of 3DVW in education and the positive outcomes of the application of the technology in this field. The four new variables presented in this study can also be examined in different contexts and/or with the application of various technologies. There have been some inconsistencies between the findings of the current study and some of the previous studies in the field. Future studies can investigate inconsistent relationships much more meticulously in a similar context. Future studies could also explore other aspects of 3DVWs which were not part of the case study.
three-dimensional virtual world, user acceptance, Second Life, higher education, eLearning
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