The future of learning? Wake up to virtual!

This week I have been to two events related to learning and education.
The first was eduserv’s final get together on where next for virtual worlds. The entire audience was made up of experts and evangelists and practitioners of virtual worlds across lots of UK universities. As a body of people and experience it was very heartening to be in such a gathering. Given much of what I have been doing recently has been education related it was good to know there were so many of us.
Still however there was the pressure for many that this was seen as some strange art form and hobby sideline. We battle on though as we do know this is the right thing to do. It is not just the technology that needs to be accepted though. The main battle is challenging ways of doing things that are accepted practice and in many ways easy and lazy for people to change. e.g. rolling out another ppt lecture to a group of students forced to sit in a room an listen. Daniel Livingstone from Sloodle used a picture from the middle ages of a lecture theatre. This showed there are deep rooted patterns in education that can still be used but improved with a little bit of thought and willingness.
The second event was the Learning Technologies 2010 expo at Kensington Olympia where there were over 130 exhibitors in learning technology. Great ! It was a huge trade show to go to and full of experts in this field.
With only a very few exceptions I was struck by the number of filling in form based applications, not even all Moodle. Lots of putting powerpoint and video and documents into “elearning” courses. Lots of “evaluation” and criteria based systems. Where were the virtual world learning platforms, even the serious games. Where was the deep rooted use of social media?
I was surprised and dismayed, followed by not being surprised again at the lack of more forward thinking technology and social solutions. Most people I talked to were surprised at what can be done with a virtual world, and they were supposed to be selling to me really.
The expo and conference is running for two days and today there is a presentation by Mark Oehlert for the US DoD about all the virtual projects and clever things they have been up to. I know that is going to blow the audience away of all they are used to is forms and videos in “elearning”. It was good to catch up with Mark and with Koreen Olbrish from TandemLearning as we keep in touch usually but meet very rarely (the last time was 3DTLC in washington).
It was interesting that Koreen had recently written a post “Do Virtual World Evangelists Really Want To Go Mainstream“. The answer from this one is of YES! 🙂
The insular nature of some industries and cosy gatherings, doing things the way they always have been done really is human nature. I have already been push the fact that avatars and islands are not the end point. There is a way to go. However the way we get mainstream acceptance is (as Koreen points out) diving into places and industries and pushing things forward.
So I have to ask the question why was there such a small selection of game and virtual world related people at this show? It would seem there is a gap in the market. I was thinking I just should have had a generic metaverse stand and explained all sorts of things like The Coaches Centre (Using web.alive and moodle to work with sports coaches and their organizations) and the work I am doing at the moment in SL with instructional design etc. Invited some or all of the people from the eduserv conference to talk and share their experiences.
There was at lease one stand there though, Kevin Corti was there with Pixelearning, and I liked the fact they were actually stand 101 🙂
Another was Caspian Learning with Thinking Worlds which has a great way of allowing people to describe a scenario and generate a browser based game engine experience. Though these were single user stand alone ones.
Many of the others that had any rich visuals looked like they were more custom builds and effectively CG movies.
I am left back at the thought the games industry is still missing a huge trick here. Whilst the virtual world companies like Linden Lab explain the use of education in the UGC Second Life the games companies have fantastic tools and techniques for creating experiences, how script writers and level designers work with visual, audio and code production. There is a middle ground and place for the instructional designers and educators to make a huge impact.
Anyway I look forward to hearing how Mark’s pitch goes.
I will get back to my Opensim, Second Life, Web.alive, Unity3d, Moodle, Sloodle, Pivote and custom build meanderings and try and convert as many people as possible in as many industries. What do I know ?

3 thoughts on “The future of learning? Wake up to virtual!

  1. Great summary of Learning Technologies! I actually work for Caspian Learning and wasn’t at the exhibition myself although a few of my colleagues were. I am both surprised and amazed by the lack of virtual world exhibitors. Despite the tough time of it last year with several companies falling out of business, I thought there would have been more of a show.

    Of course its good for us because it shows the resilience that both PixelLearning and Caspian have in these tough times and also gives us a chance to show off our in almost exclusivity.

    It has seemed to us over the last 18 months or so that despite the growing awareness for those early adopters of 3d virtual immersive worlds, the acceptance curve for the rest is still way too high and in some cases, so far behind that it could be years before we see exhibitions as large as this flutter with wonderful virtual immersive worlds for us all to play (and learn!) in…

    For those interested in the now, however (plug alert here!), visit to see how you can create your own 3d immersive simulation with no coding knowledge. Free trials available…

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