Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

20 July 2007

Virtual Social Learning?

Clark @ 3:30 AM

On this contrarian theme I seem to be on, I’ve been a nay-sayer on the virtual worlds phenomenon (and Tony O’Driscoll hasn’t returned my plea to give me his perspective, so while I respect his opinion and know he’s into them, I don’t have his take). I previously talked about the fundamental learning affordances I saw, including co-creation of representations and dynamic behavior. And I was afraid that the overhead in achieving the ability to do so was significant unless you could amortize the investment over a long period of time.

What I haven’t taken into account, due to my own ‘learning alone’ style, is the potential social elements. What I’ve heard is that when players can customize their character to represent themselves, accurately or not, they invest themselves more in the interaction. This social element, then, adds a layer to the situation that I hadn’t accounted for. Whether it’s Second Life, or any of the other environments, isn’t the issue.

So I’m willing to be wrong on these worlds, but I still harbor a suspicion that once the novelty wears off, we’ll cut to the fundamental learning affordances and find that we still need to bring down the barriers to co-creation of representations . Your thoughts?


  1. I agree that there’s potential in the social side of VWs (virtual worlds). Eventually. Even cartoons are more understandable that “texting.” Second Life has “bleeding edge” written all over it. Early adopters only.

    The excitement and utility come in the future. Project Moore’s Law out a few cycles and VW characters are going to resemble real people; you’ll be able to communicate with expressions. The haptic dream will happen. Instead of Second Life, we’ll have “Being There.”

    I advise prefacing your opinion with “For the next thirty months…” Sounds like you know what you’re talking about. And you don’t have to commit early.

    Comment by Jay Cross — 20 July 2007 @ 6:54 PM

  2. Clark, interesting observation and thoughts about 3D learning environments and digital natives and immigrants. I am trying to address the issue of the effectiveness of 3D environments in a class I am teaching called “Learning in 3D.”

    The class explores the constructs that make 3D learning effective.Similar to the work Tony O’Driscoll and I did for the e-learning guilds 360 report on synchronous learning.

    I just posted a YouTube video on my blog that contrasts 2D and 3D synchronous learning. The posting is Comparing 2D and 3D Synchronous Learning. The video contrasts a 2D session and the types of images and instruction that occur in that environment with the events and opportunities that can occur in a 3D environment.

    Now, I certainly don’t think all online learning should move into a 3D environment but…nor do I think all online learning should be done in 2D.

    Each has its place and it is not right to dismiss one out-of-hand. Social learning, collaboration, a shared sense of space. Tony O’Driscoll’s seven sensibilities are all important aspects of learning in 3D that cannot be ignored. The learning possibilities for the affective domain alone are almost limitless.

    You can follow the class at our class wiki, MSIT Second Life Wiki and, perhaps most interestingly, you can follow student reactions to the class on Kapp Notes. The reactions they have to the class in 3D provide insight into the fact that they are truly digital natives.

    The difference, in my opinion, is an overall comfort and expectation level about technology that is not experienced by someone who did not grow up surrounded by technology and taking it for granted.

    It is evidenced in my two sons and is evidenced in the way kids treat technology. A child born in 1994 was born the same year as the Internet was named Time Magazine’s person of the year. That child has never known information underload…they’ve always been overloaded with information due to the web. They have always had information at their finger tips. These kids have had to find a way to adapt to all that information and connectedness just as humans have always found ways to adapt and adaptation changes humans, in small but tangible ways.

    In fact, some research is indicating that children are changed by video games. Daphne Bavelier, a researcher who conducted studies with funding from the National Institutes of Health and McDonnell-Pew Foundation in the area of video games (in terms of visualization) has made the following statements “Our findings are surprising because they show that the learning induced by video game playing occurs quite fast and generalizes outside the gaming experience.” She goes on to say that whatever it is that gamers learn transfers to other situation.

    She is not alone, there is a growing body of research concentrating on the ability of the brain to change in response to stimuli and behaviors that require intense stimulation, such as video game playing. It seems that teenage brains are open to lasting physical changes.

    As stated in a WSJ article, “In the late 1990’s, neuroscientists discovered that the adolescent brain…under goes a wave of exuberant growth that produces more branches of and connections between neurons in the frontal cortex, in a process that peaks at about age 11 in girls and 12 in boys.” Ages at which video games are played frequently by kids.

    As Craig Anderson of Iowa State University states, “Overall, the research is solid. Video games are powerful teachers of all kinds of things.” Not to mention that they are powerful enough to, perhaps, cause addiction. Something like that changes people…maybe even a species?

    So, if visualization is generalizable outside video games and the mind changes up to age 12 or so, I think a change is occurring. Maybe it is just evolutionary but it is a change and, if you work around these kids, you can see it. Different expectations for learning and information requirements. We can’t ignore these changes, they are happening.

    When I talk about digital natives and digital immigrants with professional trainers I get some comments like “we aren’t working with 6 year olds,” “I can’t use any of this on the job.” When I provide the same presentation to teachers…they get it right away because they are seeing it every day. They are immediately tuned in to the difference.

    The digital immigrant/native issue was best summed by one of my students in a comment on my blog.

    “I had a very interesting realization this week when I went to visit my aunt. I had two conversations about Second Life (what it is, avatars, our class, etc.), one with my aunt who is tech savvy and in her mid 40’s and one with my cousin who is 17. My aunt just didn’t understand the point; she kept asking why she would want to do this? However, my cousin asked no questions about why she would want to do this; instead she responded with “That sounds so cool!” and said she was going to download it later. Maybe then she can teach my aunt a thing or two!”

    The digital native just accepts the technology. The immigrant questions it.

    Not saying which is right and which is wrong… just highlighting the difference between the two.

    Comment by Karl Kapp — 20 July 2007 @ 7:55 PM

  3. Interesting to read your comments, gents. I agree, Jay, that when we’ve solved some ‘early’ problems, it’ll be a different story. Imagine applying Apple’s interface wizardry (see iPhone) to Second Life tasks like creating object’s and adding behaviors!

    I do agree that n months down the pike, when the visuals and usability have gone up, Karl’s got it that Tony’s elements will provide some meaningful learning affordances beyond the ones I cite. It’s my own ‘social’ barrier.

    However, your anecdotes don’t fly with me, but that may be me. Jay talked setting digital watches and starting games. Those aren’t barriers for me. Similarly on asking questions: I question everything, digital or not! Again, I recognize I’m not the average of either case.

    I agree that game playing has shown increases in visualization skills, but I don’t think that’s tied to digital games: I’d suggest that early pilots probably also showed increased 3D visualization. I’ll have to try to find Daphne Bavelier’s work, since it suggests stealth learning *can* work, and I’m suspicious. Previous cognitive research shows little generalization without facilitation.

    However, the results of games may not be indicative of the digital native thing, as most of the arguments have been around multi-tasking (ask any mother about that!).

    Comment by Clark — 21 July 2007 @ 9:30 AM

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