Based on the recent Big Question - Learning Technology 2015 – I received an interesting question:
"Tony, what do you think of environments like Second Life? Do you think these have a great future in the world of learning for adults?"
This is a topic I’ve talked about a few times. Probably before you begin to read my predictions, it’s worth looking at: Second Life Learning Videos where I’ve collected a few different examples of learning in Second Life. You might also look at Second Life and Learning and Second Life as a Learning Tool.
There was a great recent article (found via Gary Woodill) - Where Have All the Avatars Gone? The basic point of the article is that despite not hearing as much about Second Life and other virtual worlds, a lot is happening where you can’t see it. A couple of points from the article:
- Over 2,000 global enterprises, 600 universities, 35 international governments, and several divisions of the U.S. federal government — including the Departments of State, Homeland Security, NOAA, NASA, Army, Navy and Air Force — now exploit Second Life technology to connect with stakeholders around the world, communicate complex ideas, train and collaborate.
- In Second Life, the Michelin Group, for example, has an "extremely successful complex training program and interactive simulations for training worldwide employees in Enterprise Architecture.
My personal experience with Second Life is that there's something really compelling about conducting meetings and events in virtual worlds. You really feel like you are more there. I also think there are some incredible opportunities to use things like Second Life to create virtual learning experiences very much like the experience of visiting the Plymouth Plantation or Colonial Williamsburg – without travel or cost of the venue. Forms of this are happening already.
But I also think that the current technical hurdles and learning curve is putting a damper on adoption. It’s a bit like video conferencing systems. If it’s not as easy as picking up a phone, then you need something pretty compelling to make it worth the headache.
So to answer the question directly:
- Virtual worlds offer the possibility of creating some incredible learning experiences, however,
- Current technical and learning curve adoption hurdles make it a niche technology, thus
- If I’m creating a new company, product, etc., I’m pretty skeptical about basing it on these technologies.
What about by 2015 to go along with the big question?
My belief is that true 3D virtual worlds like Second Life will remain a bit more of a niche. But I think there’s something that will come in from the back door that could cause significant adoption by 2015.
We’ve reached a tipping point for web conferencing where it’s equivalent too and often preferable to face-to-face (Learning from Others in the Room, Narrowing Gap between Face-to-Face and Online Presentations, New Presenter and Learner Skills and Methods).
I’ve predicted for a few years (Ten Predictions for eLearning 2008) that we would see adoption by mainstream web conferencing / video conferencing tools of something I would call a 2.5D environment. Give people an avatar or picture. Allow something along the lines of conference seating and break out rooms with separate voice streams in each. But I’ve yet to see this materialize. I think this changes the adoption dynamic entirely.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on where this is going and where we will really see adoption for the mainstream.