The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question of the Month for June is about Second Life. They elaborate the question:
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 virtualclassroom training, what are some of the major differences (surprises) in training within virtual worlds?
I’ve made my thoughts on virtual world affordances clear before: virtual worlds (of which Second Life is one) are 3D environments where one can interact with others through an avatar (it’s not a profile, but an alternative representation of yourself that you can craft), and the key two components are the spatial representation, and the ability to invest a personalization in the avatar.
If you’re not doing spatial, there are other vehicles for doing collaboration textually or visually. The social aspect with the 3D representation of one’s self may have unique learning aspects as well, though the overhead (the time to learn, craft an avatar, the download, bandwidth requirements, etc) is significant for that capability. I think the jury is still out on the benefit of the purely social aspects of Second Life, and consequently I’m still on the fence about the learning environment if your goals aren’t inherently spatial as well.
There are other aspects to Second Life, including the economy, but that’s not necessarily yet germane to organizational learning goals. There is considerable potential for an individual learning opportunity in Second Life, but that’s yet to be seen on a broad scale.
So, to me it comes back to spatial situation, but this is not a niche application. I’ve argued that systems-thinking is part of the new skill set we need to have, and spatial modeling and using spatial representations gives us an extra representation dimension to comprehend and communicate.
A very special version of this is co-collaboration. Second Life lets you work together on creating things, and having disparate experts able to negotiate developing a 3D model to capture their understanding. What’s more, you can make dynamic representations, with scripts, which really takes you into systems-thinking. The overhead is high, as modeling is difficult in Second Life, and scripting more so, but this is a truly awesome opportunity.
To answer the questions, I wouldn’t use Second Life for all teaching, but specifically where we want people to understand inherently spatial relationships (e.g. the internals of devices, places, or spaces) or relationships we’ve mapped into spatial ones. And when I want to let folks jointly create new understandings in a very rich way.