Virtual Worlds

Time-to-Adoption: Two to Three Years
The capability of virtual worlds has expanded considerably in the past few years, with enormous development in building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. Gartner Research, Inc. has estimated that by 2011, 80% of Internet users will have an avatar in a virtual world, and hundreds of platforms to allow those avatars places to interact are already available or in development. Many schools, both K-12 and higher education institutions, have some sort of work going in around virtual spaces, and in just one platform alone, Linden Lab’s Second Life®, thousands of educational projects and experiments are actively underway.

Early projects that drew heavily on real-world forms and practices gradually have given way to more experimental ventures that take advantage of the unique opportunities afforded by virtual worlds and other immersive digital environments. Now we are seeing increased use of these spaces for truly immersive forms of learning and for a level of collaboration that is erasing traditional boundaries and borders rapidly. The technology that supports virtual worlds is advancing at a rapid rate, paving the way for more realistic environments, connections between different platforms, and new ways to enter and use virtual spaces. As participation and development both continue to increase, these environments are becoming ever more interesting spaces with obvious potential for teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

  • Virtual worlds are infinitely customizable and lend themselves to detailed simulations in subjects from mathematics to literature to the sciences.
  • Virtual worlds provide a rich environment for scenario-based learning, allowing students to interact with — or even construct — places and objects of historical or scientific significance.
  • Flexible learning spaces, simulations, and alternative experiences allow students to take part in activities that are difficult to host in real-life classrooms, such as touring a working industrial plant.

Virtual Worlds in Practice

For Further Reading

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research
(Journal of Virtual Worlds, accessed February 23, 2010.) This online journal includes a number of in-depth research reports and papers concerning virtual worlds.

Serious Virtual Worlds: A Scoping Study (PDF)
This comprehensive study examines different virtual world platforms in terms of their suitability for learning and training. It is geared towards higher education in the UK, but has relevant information for anyone interested in how virtual worlds can be used in educational settings.

Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks, A Report To Congress (PDF)
(Jon Leibowitz, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission, December 2009.) This report gives an overview of the risks associated with giving kids experiences in virtual worlds.