Learners assume a certain appearance through the creation of an avatar. These avatars are controlled through a computer keyboard and/or mouse. The avatars are able to move independently through the virtual environment. As the learner moves through the environment the computer generates new graphics in real-time to give the learner feedback on their position in the environment and the actions taken by themselves and others within the environment.
The learning can occur formally through a class-like environment or a scripted simulation or the learning can occur informally through chats, wikis or blogs contributed by the learners interacting within the environment and each other.
MMOLEs typically have the following characteristics:
- Linkages to Learning Management Systems and the ability to launch more traditional e-learning courses.
- Communications tools such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and/or text-based chats.
- Controls specifically for the instructor/facilitator.
- The ability for learners to build or create their own objects within the world.
- A client-server model, in which the "world" runs continuously on a server, and learners connect to it via client software.
- Large communities of learners, or social networks.
- A method of tracking leaner progress for the formal elements of the learning environment.
- Tools to allow social learning and networking within the environment such as a learner profile, learner generated blogs and learner created wikis.
Advantages of MMOLEs
Immediate Feedback: A learner in a MMOLE receives instant feedback from the environment and from other learners within the environment. Immediate feedback helps reinforce desired behaviors or actions and helps discourage non-desirable behaviors.
Social Interaction: The environment allows learners to exchange information and ideas with each other through voice and text chats. The ability to interact and network with other learners helps to reinforce learning and to generate new learning.
Situated Learning: A learner can be placed into an environment similar to the one in which he or she must work. Research shows that the more similar the learning environment to the work environment, the more effective the transfer of learning. For example, a student teacher could be placed into a classroom of virtual students to work through the issues of classroom management. A sales person can be placed into the office of a potential client and told to negotiate a sale. A machine operator can be placed on the factory floor with all the accompanying noise and distractions and told to produce quality product.
New Perspectives: On the other hand, since the environment is virtual, learners can go places and experience environments not possible in the physical world. For example, a learner could be shrunk and walk through a blood vessel and witness blood clotting. A learner could travel to the solar system and fly around the planets. A learner could be transported to ancient Egypt and walk among the people and watch how a pyramid was built (or even participate in the building of a pyramid). A learner could be transported to a situation where he or she was a first responder and had to perform duties such as crowd control or search and rescue.
Multi-Modal Interactions: Most online learning environments involve some audio and visual, however, they are not typically three dimensional. The 3D aspect coupled with audio and voice can allow the learner to engage multiple senses in the MMOLE experience and help to reinforce the learning. The impact of a 3D visual means that the learner can also be impacted on the emotional or affective level.
The use of MMOLEs is currently in its infancy but the potential for the use of MMOLEs in a variety of situations and industries means that the use of MMOLEs will continue to grow in acceptance and use.
Please feel free to comment on this “definition in progress” and to make any suggestions or additions.
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