Virtual Learning Worlds – Connect Learners within the Web

Transforming “Flatland” into an immersive 3D Learning World is the mission of Tony O´Driscoll, virtual worlds expert and Professor of the Practice at Duke University´s Fuqua School of Business. He is profoundly convinced that the demands of globalisation and a new working world with anytime, anyplace work also need an anytime, anyplace educational parallel.

By Angelika Eckert

“The immersive Internet is the logical extension of the web“, believes the virtual worlds expert Tony O´Driscoll. According to information-technology researcher Gartner, by the year 2011, eighty percent of users will be using avatars to engage in the next generation of the Internet – the 3D Immersive Internet.

Thanks to Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and options for tagging, people today are able to connect with each other easily through the web. This, in turn, leads to immense cross-linking: If Facebook and MySpace were thought of as digital nations, they would already be the fifth and sixth largest countries in the world.

Does a similar potential lie in avatars? Tens of millions of people are already connecting via an alter ego on a regular basis and play games like World of Warcraft or simulate an existence in Second Life. The power of immersion plus interactivity offered by the immersive internet (or “immernet” Tony O’Driscoll likes to call it) brings enriched engagement and increases the ability to co-create at a distance.

New Opportunities for Corporate Learning

Due to its inability to adapt and change as rapidly as the environment in which it operates, a modern-day organisation faces a lot of problems. As most technology has been applied to automate the classroom paradigm to date, there is a growing disconnect between the learning needs of the modern-day enterprise and the ability of the traditional learning function to address them. Stated simply, Virtual Worlds have too much potential for learning professionals to ignore.
Compared to this traditional learning scenario, the new technology allows learners to create contexts where they encounter teachable moments within the environment. So instead of learning before doing, they now have the ability to learn while doing. This represents a significant opportunity for learning.

Tony O’Driscoll is convinced: “Finally we have a set of technological affordances at our disposal that allow us to create meaningful experiential learning contexts that can significantly accelerate learning.” His book Learning in 3D: Bringing a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration cites ten specific business cases. They range from carefully crafted virtual experiences designed to have participants viscerally understand the consequences of diversity and inclusion issues to the staging of very large virtual conferences.

In each case, the business objective and the solution varies. Still, at the core of every case is the truism that there are certain “affordances” that virtual worlds offer that existing technologies could not. For the diversity and inclusion intervention, learners actually have to “walk in another person’s virtual shoes” to feel what it is like to be someone other than themselves. In the case of a virtual conference, the power of presence and the death of distance are two “affordances” that have come together, and this has allowed people from all around the world to convene in a third place – in cyberspace – to learn from and with each other.

Tony O'Driscoll

From his experience, Tony O´Driscoll knows about the key reasons usually cited for applying immersive internet technology to learning: besides a better learning experience and adherence to the green agenda of the firm, it is also a matter of cost avoidance for travel and lodging. Therefore, most of the cases outlined in his book provide a cost profile. Tony observes: “The expense is usually cast in terms of how long it would take to recoup the investment. In most cases, that return is achieved within twelve months.“

Learning to Change

As enterprises and learning professionals become more familiar with the technology, applications will mature and develop new forms of learning and collaboration, says O´Driscoll. During his half-day workshop at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN, he will show the audience what a 3D learning architecture that outlines decent 3D learning experience has to be like. He is certain that: “Afterwards, people will know more about the macrostructures, principles, archetypes and affordances that need to be aligned in order to have a 3D learning architecture that is optimised to address the business issue at hand.“

The workshop Learning in 3D: Bringing a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration will take place on December 2nd, 2009 from 14:00 – 18:00.

The book Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Training and Collaboration by Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll will be available in January 2010 and will have an accompanying website and 3D space.

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