What is a virtual world or 3D virtual environment?
A virtual world is an online community or computer-based simulated environment where users can interact with one another and use and create objects. Virtual worlds or interactive 3D virtual environments, allow users to inhabit through their avatars, a textual, 2D, or 3D graphic representation, and communicate through text, graphical icons, visual gesture and sound.
What are the benefits of using virtual worlds for teaching and learning?
Virtual worlds represent a powerful new media for instruction offering a wide scope of tools for social interaction and innovation in learning to encourage student participation. Virtual worlds have the ability to adapt and grow to different learner needs and can overcome the limitations of a traditional classroom setting where certain tasks can be difficult due to constraints (i.e. cost, location, etc.).
V-learning promotes learner empowerment by allowing students to personalize their learning pathways, through virtual mediations and their avatar, which can create new learning experiences and reflection.
Who is using them?
Although virtual worlds have been around for over 20 years, their real potential and use for educational purposes has grown in the last 5 years, including replicating universities, museums, art galleries and science labs for tutoring and mentoring (Pasolova-FØrland et al., 2009).
According to the article Serious Virtual Worlds (Freitas, 2008) “…the lines between virtual worlds, games and social networking are blurring significantly leading to the assertion that over the next 5 years the majority of young people under 18 will have avatars and be using these kinds of applications daily and therefore have different expectations about how education may be delivered to them”.
Although major research studies on the benefits of virtual worlds in terms of participation, learner control, educational standards and quality assurance are still underway, the development of v-learning in the next 5-10 years has the potential to radically change how we learn and the face of education.