Virtual Learning Environment in the Age of Global Infonetworks

Vlastimil Vesel

Institute of Informatics FAST, Technical University of Brno





The paper is focused on educational process in the era of global infonetwork world. It addresses education as an important part of Electronic Commerce infrastructure and its content for digital media market. Changing universities' role and personalized education are examined in the context of IT multimedia tools and virtual organisation model. The second part describes some of the software applications being developed at the Institute of Informatics, Technical University of Brno, as a part of international EU projects. The concept is available on the Virtual Info Park site,, the WWW center for Internet strategies, E-commerce and virtual education.


Education in the network era

In the information, as opposed to the agriculture or industrial, economy, ... people prosper less according to what they have in their hands or bank accounts, and more according to what they can do with their minds. ... Education is just about the most important job a community can do. (Esther Dyson, Release 2.0)

In the last decade, the widespread introduction of personal computers led to their use in training. As computers became more powerful, sophisticated multimedia computer based training allowed learners the freedom to work on their own, much as they might with a traditional correspondence course. However, this form of training isolates students in that there are usually no support mechanisms in the form of an instructor or fellow students to turn to with questions or to discuss issues.

The training and education requirement today has changed radically from the past, in particular because of:

Education is a broad term. We define it on the basis of three primary processes of an educational institution

  1. Teaching & Training & Coaching - disseminating general knowledge and skills, one-way or two-ways communication with learners
  2. Consulting - concrete problems solution, applying theoretical background into practice
  3. Publishing - bringing new ideas, enriching the content, resp. know-how fund, communicating with other colleagues



E-education in the E-commerce context

If we think of E-commerce and network digital economy as trends that will affect almost every area of our work and life, consider education in this line too. In the world, where the king is information value, continuous learning and reskilling will be necessary. The classical way of attending classrooms will have to be replaced or combined with distance education. Let's look at several reasons why no business should forget the online form

Internet or generally public information network brings to the side of supply an effective tool for educating the customers and to the side of demand a chance to decide more by real information rather than by advertisment slogans. Moreover intranet or other form of corporate information system is a suitable tool for an organization to provide employees with cheap and efficient education and to maintain corporate know-how.


Changing universities' role

Schools have to prepare for a fundamental change of their society role. Regarding IT development they can not compete as encyclopedic information sources anymore. Their unsubstitutability is especially in performing as training and live communication centers, in providing space for such activities that can not be virtually.
What the Czech educational system is missing on the way to information society is well described in Agenda 2000 by European Commission [3]:



What can E-education bring

Cost needed to start online courses usually include

Next to advantages in operating online courses you need to take into account higher investment necessary for primary building a course and potential market size limited by the language barrier.


ACCEL model

The probability of effective learning outcomes can be improved by designing with the following ACCEL model that builds on learning principles and learner characteristics:



Czech Internet Commerce market overview

The Czech Republic offers an emerging market accessible effectively also through Internet infrastructure. Although Internet penetration can be hardly compared to Scandinavian or US figures it is becoming seriously considered media reaching the attractive part of the population. The number of Internet nodes (DNS servers) in CZ domain has exceeded 80,000. The recent GfK representative survey is showing a figure of 7,3% Internet users in our population (over 700,000 people). The Net advertising market is estimated to 35M CZK (about 1M USD) annually (that is about 0.15 % of the total advertising market). In May 1998 Expandia Banka started to provide a complete Internet banking in the Czech Republic. Nowadays it is the major force to push forward E-commerce in the country - see also eCity (, the unique Internet game helping to build Net shopping attitudes (with more than 25,000 users).



IP addresses

IP addresses
per 1000 inhabitants

in Europe


24 794




459 568




318 993




1 449 915




55 859



Czech Republic

86 482




386 632




10 250



Source: RIPE


A lack of Internet user demographics in the Central Europe is one of the major barriers slowing investment into Internet and preventing further development of on-line business and electronic commerce. In 1996 DirectNet Consulting and the Institute of Informatics, Technical University of Brno, started to conduct the Internet users survey in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The goal was to define users of Internet services in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and their demographic profile to find out reasons, ways and preferences in Internet usage to clarify attitudes for online marketing and business transactions on WWW. So far four survey rounds were conducted, each of them took about 5 months with the total number over 6,300 participants.

A typical Internet user can be described as a young man with strong right wing political preferences who is finishing/has just finished college/university with a technical orientation. He usually works in a large urban area and in organisations dealing with IT or general/trade services. He uses Internet 1-2 hours a day (especially WWW and E-mail) - mostly at his workplace. The major motivation is retrieving information for both personal and work needs, further education and communication. He prefers access speed and up-to-date information provided on WWW. He is interested in entertainment (including culture and sport), professional information from his field and online news. Experience with buying online is still rare (but continuing to increase), but results show a significant interest in trying it. The major barrier in buying online is often absence of payment cards and fear of transaction fraud by merchants. He is especially prepared to buy online travel/admission tickets, books, software and video/audio products.


Virtual Education Environment

A virtual course is in our concept (developed by Institute of Informatics, TU of Brno) represented by the following services:

In general, the content may be served using combination of different media types: text, images, sound, video. Three kinds of interaction may occur: user-to-content, user-to-user and user-to-teacher in two communication modes: asynchronous and synchronous. The simplest form that a course may take, is a series of statically web pages, organized in a common navigational structure. The course content is mostly delivered as a combination of text and images. Basic asynchronous communication tool like web-board may be supplied.

The more sophisticated course may include one or more online sessions, in which the teacher synchronously presents lecture materials using some form of whiteboard, coupled with audio and/or video streams. In addition the process of the course delivery involves other issues including user and group management, performing and evaluating tests, etc. In the both cases, the capabilities of the web browser can satisfy the user interface requirements. In the more complicated situations, browser functionality should be extended in a standard way using plug-ins, external helper applications or Java applets.



Online tests

An application serving databases of questions and possible choices generates a form where subscribers fill (usually tag) their answers. The total result is shown and stored in the database. Questions can be selected randomly by given topic and difficulty in the way they are different for each of students.

This kind of test is not supposed to be used for examination purposes. The test provides a user with feedback about his/her knowledge level (if he/she is ready to do another task). Moreover the course leaders receive information on which questions are more difficult than others (that affects the Web course material).

This application could be used also for the help navigation facilities. Clients feedback enables us to redesign the system. A high potential can be also seen in developing an analytical tool providing data mining and knowledge management in the future as more research oriented work.


E-newsletter publishing

Another service is a personalised E-newsleter accompanying Web publishing and using data from other virtual education services. E-newsletter communicating specific market and providing a platform to develop a community represents always an effective way to deliver a value on the Net.

The solution is based on the database of E-mail addresses and a mailing list like application. In the personalised version it is necessary to respect preferences in terms of the content and the character set. The application should also handle unsuccessful attempts to deliver messages in order to reduce the number of addresses not valid anymore. The application can also support building teachers's own E-newsletter with their own content defined in advance.



Vesel_ V., 1998

Mall2000: Online Business Beyond the Year 2000, Business Requirements Specification (EU Copernicus project)

Vesel_ V., 1998

Vzdělávání v prostředí globálních informačních sítí (Prague Internet World 98 conference)

Owsten R., 1997

The Teaching Web: A Guide to the World Wide Web for all Teachers

Vesel_ V., Hajkr J., 1997

Virtual Info Park - WWW service for university marketing and on-line education in the Czech Republic" (Mezinárodní konference "Conference on business and economic development in Central and Eastern Europe" ,Brno)

WBT, 1998

Web Based Training White Paper

Microsoft, 1998

Distance Learning Online: A Faculty FAQ

Agenda 2000, European Comission Opinion on the Czech Republic's Application for Membership of the EU

Learning in the Information Society, Action plan for a European education initiative