I was talking with Gina Shreck, who I’d known through Twitter, at a Sun-sponsored happy hour about new learning environments. She’s been quite active in Virtual Worlds (VW), and I was describing an Augmented Reality Game (ARG), and it came to me that there are some really meaningful similarities.
We know from research like John Bransford’s Anchored Instruction and Brown, Collins, & Duguid’s Situated Cognition that learning works better in context (even if you spread across contexts to generalize). What I realized is that both approaches are really using technology to bring context for learning into vivid relief. I’ve been active in games for learning because it provided meaningful practice, and of course VW’s can be used to host games in (realizing that VW‘s aren’t inherently games, but instead are just environments), and so are ARG’s.
Even when designed for learning, the point is to try to enrich the context. Web-based games are the easiest, but there are times when more full contextualization is necessary, and the different environments offer different affordances or capabilities.
Despite the overhead, VWs are immersive in that your avatar is totally ‘in world’, and you can design that world to be anyplace/anytime you want it to be. You can design the contingencies the way you want. While most valuable for 3D, it may also be important for when total difference is necessary. Specific examples include building real world structures that must be explored or investigated, for learning purposes.
On the other hand, ARGs are set in the real world, but specific constraints can be introduced. You can have specific events, materials, and people (real or virtual) appear in the world you want. Again, you want to develop associated decision making for those explored contexts.
The reason to use an ARG is to develop the ability to develop the capability in situ, that is, as close to the real world context as possible, whereas VWs can add extra dimensions, or work for contexts that are too expensive or dangerous to do live. That’s also true for non-VW games as well, of course.
The point is to minimize distance and maximize transfer from learning context to real world application. The overhead to take advantage of these sorts of capabilities is dropping quite rapidly. The goal is to discover the degree and type of contextualization needed (as well as pocketbook, of course), and decide what environment offers the necessary depth and value to achieve the outcomes you need. However, you need to understand the full repertoire of tools available, and their affordances, to optimally choose an approach. So, game on!