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For many of us who specialize in applying computer game and simulation approaches to corporate learning the hype around the ‘serious games’ space was somewhat worrying. The hype which surrounds the ‘virtual worlds’ space however is, to my mind, positively alarming. Virtual world technologies and platforms such as, for example, the seemingly ubiquitous Second Life, have attracted an astonishing level of press coverage and spawned numerous conferences.  

Intuition and a fair amount of personal virtual world exploration tell me that this application genre and the functionality it provides will lead to many a positive contribution to the learning technologies profession. What these will be and when they will materialize is, however, far from certain.  In the meantime there are many people who believe that the seemingly relentless drive for corporations to invest in virtual spaces – more often than not to build a virtual representation of a real world office or lecture theatre – is being undertaken with an apparent abandonment of any meaningful business or learning rationale.  

Prominent figures such as Roo Reynolds, a ‘Metaverse Evangelist’ at IBM UK, make a very persuasive case for paying attention to developments in the virtual worlds (and Web 2.0) space. I do not disagree with this particularly where there is potential for meaningful collaboration, true community building and serendipitous ‘comings together’ where informal learning takes place and new connections are made.  I would, however, strongly urge organizations to make sure that they can clearly articulate a sound business case before investing significant training budgets on virtual world projects. The creation of graphically rich environments into which are embedded traditional multimedia content had better have a pretty compelling advantage over deploying that same content in a more traditional way. A presentation which is embedded into Second Life is still a presentation only you have succeeded in making it harder to access and use than if you simply gave a learner a direct URL to the same resource. 

A virtual world does not a simulation make. As learning simulation designers we seek the ability to define a structure (whether rigid or open), learner objectives and tasks. We need to define what ‘content’ is made available to learners when and under what conditions. We need to be able to influence sequencing of events, order levels of, for example, complexity. We need to be able to accurately recreate systems, environments, situations and processes which the learners can work within and which they can affect in realistic ways and we need to be able to provide instructions, mentoring, coaching and feedback when it is needed and appropriate to do so. We need to be able to control access and usage, garner organizationally important learner metrics and assess learning performance. 

What we do not need is a huge amount of unnecessary functionality and distractions which will take days to learn and which will divert a learner from his/her goals. We do not want a technical behemoth of an IT system that is a veritable pain to distribute, install, update and support……and we do not want uninvited ‘guests’ appearing out of the blue dressed as Pooh Bear (or worse) and trying to entice our trainees to “come join them at the swingers club”.

The terminologies we use, the application features developers seek to create and the requirements that clients request really do need to be based upon a sound grasp of what the adult learning market actually needs and is able to practically adopt.


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