Thursday, June 12, 2008

Second Life - For this life or the next?

The June 2008 Big Question from Learning Circuits is around Second Life Training.
More specifically: - 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?

Well, I haven't experienced Second Life as closely as I would like to. However, from my experience and some reading/skimming about Second Life, I have an opinion to share.
To identify whether I should develop a training experience using Second Life, I had to think and jot down the USPs of Second Life and compare them to the methods that I am more used to! So, in terms of being different, Second Life is more:

1) Immersive - be a part of the learning intervention

2) Non-threating - be whatever you want to be - avatars can take you anywhere

3) Collaborative - be with others and learn together

4) Constructivist - be responsible for your own learning

Considering these as relevant elements that I could leverage in creating a training intervention, I suppose Second Life renders itself well to specific learning outcomes that revolve around ‘doing’, ‘analyzing’, ‘applying’, ‘synthesizing’, ‘problem-solving’, ‘decision-making’ etc. As you can notice, I am traveling along a continuum of higher-order, far transfer skills that are usually difficult to teach within the traditional classroom environment or plain vanilla elearning. Here are some examples where I think I could use Second Life:

1) For training that involves developing skills in working with equipment (expensive, difficult, and possibly threating in real-life) for example, engineers who need to learn to troubleshoot and repair faulty printers. In a typical classroom environment, it is rather difficult to produce faulty printers for each session (across the world) and definitely difficult to have one faulty printer per student! But in Second Life, that’s possible. Infact the learner can completely tear down a printer, explore its parts, virtually identify the fault, and rectify it. Artifacts in such a learning environment could include faulty printers, tools typically used for printer repair, some reference manuals with step-by-step instructions, and may be even videos demonstrating the learners how to do the job well.

2) For training that involves developing skills in a new language or soft skills such as communication, leadership etc. I always find it challenging to create relevant role-plays for soft skills training. Even after great role-play designs, it is always difficult to find volunteers to do those role-plays in the classroom! In Second Life, everyone is immersed into the training and they would have to communicate with others to progress. The role-plays would be the core design and every learner would have to play out something in that environment. Artifacts in such training would include other participants, some places to go visit (a museum, a gallery – anything that stimulates and leads to a conversation), specific learning situations as a part of the design.

3) For training that involves teaching critical (life-threating) skills around working with people – say for example conducting a medical operation! In real-life, it is rather difficult for budding doctors to find ‘practice patients’. Real patient are the guinea pigs for learning. But using Second Life, I can provide them with practice patients who need to be diagnosed correctly, prescribed adequate medication, observed over time, and even operated upon when required. It is much easier to think about teaching such skills in Second Life than in the current one! In Second Life, the budding doctors can make mistakes and learn from them. In real-life, there is no scope for error and any mistake has serious consequences. Artifacts in such an intervention could include sample patients with specific diseases, medical books and periodicals for references, other senior doctors for consultation etc.

As I begin to write about areas where I think I can use Second Life training, I am sure there are many more areas that I do not know about. With this blog, I am on my journey to explore them. However, I also understand that Second Life is yet another media. I don’t think I want to get carried away with it – atleast not yet. In that sense, I won’t create training (design) so that it can be implemented in Second Life. But when I sit down to design my training and I am keen to use a blend, I will now think about Second Life too – along with all other learning tools. There are challenges in using any learning media and this one has its own – bandwidth and connectivity concerns, computing and graphic/media capability concerns, a steep learning curve, and many other distractions in Second Life! But I am sure soon we will find our way around these challenges soon.

I, like everybody else, am keen to see where Second Life takes us – as learners and instructional designers. I am sure the path is unknown and difficult but I would like to give it a shot and know for myself!


  1. That was a very good read Taruna! It makes me wonder if people anywhere are actually using Second Life for learning/training related interventions..and how really interesting it would be.
    It is a good thought to try and see if this could be implemented in any of our training course..

  2. Thanks Sonali. Both corporates and universities have started using second life for education/training! Infact, if you read some of the articles written by other folks in the Learning Circuits blog, we can realise that it has infact alreadystarted to go places ...