An Investigation into the Uptake and Benefit of Virtual Learning Network Opportunities in the Small Business Tourism Sector

Josephine Matthews

    Research output: Types of ThesisMaster's Thesis


    While there is a growing interest amongst researchers in networks and partnerships to overcome learning barriers, relatively little work on networks has been published with a specific tourism focus. This dissertation is concerned with tourism learning networks (TLNs) and the role of virtual learning environments (VLEs) in sustaining member viability following facilitated TLN interaction. This research set out to investigate and understand users‘ adoption and uptake of Fáilte Ireland‘s VLE commencing with a comprehensive literature review, relating to virtual learning network environments. Review of the literature was undertaken from a social and informational viewpoint identifying virtual network opportunities among small businesses primarily in the tourism sector, and resulting in a virtual learning network conceptual framework for a small firm environment. The methodology for this study was shaped by the need to investigate participant activity within the VLE and to establish the uptake and benefits associated with its adoption. In order to fulfil the requirements of the research proposed, a mixed method approach was employed. This approach enabled the research to comprehensively uncover quantitative measurements with qualitative insights through the use of key informant interviews, census questionnaire, click stream data analysis and finally semi-structured interviews. This mixed methods approach assisted in avoiding information narrowness. By using multiple methods the researcher was able to meaningfully track participant perceptions and analyse interactive learning in a facilitated VLE. Findings classified the nature of the network community in both physical and virtual capacities, through the identification of modes of communication, level of membership, intentions to seek advice, make contact and contribute within the networking community. In terms of VLN usage, time was identified as the lead barrier to using the VLE, followed by a lack of training, and a low usage level among TLN members. Furthermore, findings suggest that while participants are willing to seek advice and share information within the VLN, most respondents felt they made only limited contributions to the VLN community. This study is of considerable interest to small tourism business owners who wish to benefit from the value added by a VLN. From a theoretical perspective, this research offers a framework for facilitation of virtual learning environments in the small firm context. This framework indicates the necessary dimensions involved in promotion of interactive learning online, therefore adding to the existing body of knowledge in the area. This study also gives insight into areas of concern for the Fáilte Ireland team by providing an in-depth analysis of participants‘ perspectives in relation to virtual collaboration (activity, barriers, and adoption levels), participants‘ perspectives in relation to the TLN learning support structure, and any underlying behavioural mediators, that may be responsible for poor VLN activity among participants.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Holden, Mary T., Supervisor
    • Kelliher, Felicity, Supervisor
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2009


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