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Immersive Environments

Page history last edited by Jay Cross 16 years, 8 months ago



Virtual Worlds ("VWs") for Learning





Another Life: Virtual Worlds as Tools for Learning


by Jay Cross of Internet Time Group, IBM's Tony O'Driscoll, and Eilif Trondsen of SRI-Business Intelligence


What do people do in VWs?
First, let's go on record by stating the obvious: VWs will not replace other forms of learning. Instead, we believe the thoughtful application of VW technology will significantly enhance the experience and transfer of learning. We encourage you to examine this technology with fresh eyes and begin by asking what sensibilities it can bring to the learner that aren't found in traditional learning technology. So instead of asking "How do I build a virtual classroom?" we might ask, "What can this technology do that will enhance the learner's experience that my current learning technology portfolio cannot?"


Here are the VW sensibilities we have identified so far:


  • The Sense of Self. First, a bit of terminology. Your virtual self is called an avatar. Your avatar is your persona, totally under your control. As opposed to games or simulations where people have limited freedom to set their own course, your avatar can walk (or fly) wherever he or she chooses. This occurs in real time: Click to fly and your avatar is aloft. More importantly, the more you hang out in VWs the more you and your avatar become one. In short, you are your avatar when in a VW, and your emotional attachment to that avatar will surprise you!


  • The Death of Distance.Avatars reside in a boundless virtual landscape in which they can teleport through cyberspace from one place to another at the speed of light. There is no distance in VWs. Think of yourself as Einstein did when he formulated the theory of relativity. You are sitting on a beam of light, and you can go from one place to the next in an instant. SL's landscape is home to stores, businesses, shops, houses, office buildings, campuses, and playing fields, all constructed by residents themselves, thousands of entrepreneurs who design and build with great skills, or by the more than 60 firms offering a range of professional services. The landscape in a VW is persistent; cut off your computer and the VW will be there when you return. It's like SimCity except that it's SimContinent or SimPlanet. Other VWs come with more structure: ProtoSphere (ProtonMedia's virtual environment) comes with pre-built classrooms, lecture halls, and meeting spaces.


  • The Power of Presence, Sense of Space, and Capacity to Co-Create. Avatars interact with one another through the actions of their real-life puppet-masters. Avatars converse, collaborate, attend book signings, concerts and meetings, listen to presentations, explore, co-construct virtual buildings or sculptures, write in wikis, and play baseball or tringo (a popular in-world game that will be soon available on cell-phones and launched as a TV game show by the BBC). VWs encourage social groups to form. Unimaginable? Stanford researcher Clifford Nass has discovered that people often treat computers as they would other people. They like a computer that praises them. If humans treat beige boxes as kin, surely they can identify with animated humanoids in a VW.


  • The Pervasiveness of Practice. Walk around Second Life for a while and you'll come to the conclusion that it's not only a virtual social world, but a world that fosters a culture of collaborative learning. Sandboxes abound where slightly more experienced Second Lifers share what they know with others. In every corner you see chat interactions that start with the wonderful learning question "How do I…?" Stop and look around. You will come to realize that this is an emotive network where all the cultural attributes of peer-to-peer creation and learning are present, but in a way that renders it logical for us as human beings. Those who bang bits for a living may think Usenet or Linux development in 3D; those from the Web 2.0 generation may think MySpace plus eBay in 3D; and members of the wiki movement may envision Wikipedia becoming Wikitechture, with avatars co-creating things in 3D space and learning all along the way.


  • The Enrichment of Experience. Another sensibility VWs provide is the enrichment of experience. In saying this we don't just mean that VWs are better than Centra or Interwise. We are saying that is possible to have experiences in these spaces that are not possible in the real world. VWs provide the ability to exist in an augmented reality. Maybe you are confined to a wheelchair and suddenly you can dance the night away, or perhaps you want to interact with your design colleagues around the world to check out a virtual prototype of a car, a chip layout, a battlefield situation, or a caffeine molecule. This platform enables people to experience life in new and engaging ways.

 The authors' avatars.




Discuss virtual worlds for learning here.


3pointd.com & 3pedia


Tony O'Driscoll's blog





Second Life


Top 20 Educational Locations in Second Life


NMC: Seriously Engaging  A five-minute promotional video by Electric Sheep provides a rosy view of a virtual campus.

NOAA Virtual Island video


My Second Life, a movie of a guy who goes from carbon to bits


Machinima -- making movies in a virtual world

Virtual U2 Concert


Become a member of Second Life. It's free. Sign-up is simple.

You don't need to take the orientation if you're short on time.

However, you must be a member to visit some of the places we'll be going to.


Austin Hall, Berkman, Harvard

Video of Reuters in Second Life

Berkman's 20-minute video tutuoral

slide show of SL photos






Forterra Systems

Defense video


fort5 fort4 fort2 fort3


Caspian Learning


Discuss virtual worlds for learning here.






All avatars are not created equal. Who would you rather work with?



ProtonMedia's Protosphere


Linden Lab's Second Life

What is there?

Ariel's Day Out video


Active Worlds


VW Craft Shops

Millions of Us

Electric Sheep






IBM is investing more to explore virtual worlds than everyone else combined. Eightbar provides some details. IBM alumni bloc party. Irving Wladawsky-Berger on virtual worlds. IBM reported in Reuters Second Life News Center.


Virtual Worlds Consortium at SRIC-Business Intelligence






Virtual worlds can be classified along a continuum from Metaverse (driven by commerce and collaboration) to Interverse (3D comes to learning) to Intraverse (intensive collaboration across firewalls). Some of the key players are mapped by how they create value. Second Life is clearly in the Metaverse/Commerce and Intraverse/Collaboration realm with the emphasis being on the former. There.com and Forterra are different packages of the same stuff, one for Metaverse and the other for Intra/Interverse. There.com already has VOIP on board but won't let you can't build stuff like SL. If you want a platform that runs on 56K, integrates with existing apps, allows you to fire up a browser in-world, and integrates with your current LMS, you may want to check out Protosphere. is a new arrival on the scene, but it seems to fit somewhere in between. And finally for all of us who are educators and have been salivating over Second Life meets Moodle (Sloodle), take look at Open Croquet. Some big brains are behind this software, most notably Alan Kay.


The bonanza comes when VWs support learning in ways that current methods cannot, i.e. when the horseless carriage becomes the car and the icebox becomes a refrigerator. At the end of the day, VWs afford more freedom as we think about how to apply it to make learning more engaging and memorable. Much more than training, VWs are what we like to call a Learnscape. They are learning/working ecosystems that by their very nature embrace:


  • Flow, balancing inactivity and challenge in just the right proportions to keep people moving through the experience.
  • Repetition, which allows learners to try-and-try again as many times as they choose.
  • Experimentation, encouraging learners to try new things and learn in the process. 
  • Experience that is much more engaging than other digitally mediated technologies.
  • Doing, because practice makes perfect and VWs are big practice fields. 
  • Observing, because if you're not ready to act now, you have plenty of opportunities to observe others and learn from them. 
  • Motivation, because all of these factors culminate in an environment that cultivates teachable moments at every turn. Motivation is baked into the context as people want to learn within it.






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