Home > learning > Virtual Worlds & Learning – can it work?

Virtual Worlds & Learning – can it work?

The big question for June is on the use of Second Life for training. As always there are several questions:

  • In what situations, do you believe it makes sense to develop a learning experience that will be delivered within Second Life?
  • If you were to develop a training island in Second Life, what kind of environment and artifacts would you consider essential for teaching?
  • Just as there are considerable differences in blended learning and virtual classroom training, what are some of the major differences (surprises) in training within virtual worlds?

I personally find the 1st & 3rd questions most relevant. The second question, around the artifacts that would be essential to teaching really depends on the type of learning interaction you’re designing.

I think, just like eLearning, a virtual world (such as Second Life) can be used in most learning interactions… as long as it’s a meaningful interaction. So, we’re pretty much all on the same page with what doesn’t work in workplace learning – lectures (whether it’s a person in the class, on the phone, or text-only on the screen eLearning). Yet, I find all too often, a learning environment in a virtual world mimics a classroom. There’s a lecture hall and a podium and slides. If it doesn’t work in real life, it won’t work there!

<end rant>

In my opinion a fabulous interaction in a virtual world is one that you can’t recreate in the real world, such as:

  • If you’re trying to teach medical students about schizophrenia, take them to the Virtual Hallucinations sim where they can experience what it’s like to hear voices in your head.
  • If you’re trying to explain to a journalist what they’ll experience when they’re on site in a refugee camp, take her to the Camp Darfur sim to give exposure to what the environment can be like.
  • If you’re studying fashion design, use your avatar to create sample looks.
  • If you’re creating a course on landscaping for a home building centre, have participants check out some Botanical gardens.

These sims weren’t necessarily created as “learning environments” but they work that way. They provide experiential learning at its finest. And that’s the key, the experience is memorable. Just like in any other type of learning.

Question 3 asks us about the major differences between learning in virtual worlds and learning in a classroom. I think the two major differences are: how you facilitate and the required prior knowledge. Let me tell you a story. I presented in Second Life to a part-time MBA class a few weeks ago. I was under the impression that while most participants were new to SL, they had been in world before. I was also under the impression that I would facilitate the content and the professor and TA would facilitate the “event”. Double-wrong.

Only one participant had been in world before. The ramp up time to use a virtual world is not the same as the time to learn to participate in a virtual classroom (or eLearning interface). Movement, chat, voice, clothing, and space all have to be considered. Simultaneously. Furthermore, facilitating the content (i.e., presenting) while trying to help a participant learn how to use voice is impossible. Think about a virtual classroom presentation. While one facilitator is talking and presenting to the group, the other is monitoring the chat pod and answering questions. The same division of labour is required for a virtual world, except the event facilitators need to be proficient in the virtual world… and there needs to be more than one of them.

I don’t know that Second Life (or another VW) is the killer app for learning. But if offers us (as designers & learners) the opportunity to explore content in a different way. And that’s a really, really great thing!

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  1. August 2, 2008 at 18:46

    Very nice!!

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