There are a number of preliminary things to consider when beginning to search for vendors to assist you in developing a MMOLE.
Tie your request to a business need. Successful projects start by aligning virtual world needs with your organization’s goals. Whether the goal is to reach out to alumni through a shared virtual space or creating a virtual machine shop to teach safety to mechanics, the underlying purpose and business objective must be articulated to the vendor. When the vendor understands the business requirements, they can better craft the solution.
Know what to expect. The virtual learning marketplace is relatively young and is just now beginning an accelerated growth path. This means that companies will appear and disappear, mergers and acquisitions will occur at a high rate and companies will suddenly arrive out of nowhere with new and improve virtual world technologies. The virtual world marketplace is fast growing with many different players. It is still too young for any major shakeouts to have occurred. So it is important you understand the vendor landscape, the technologies, the learning potential and the affordances of 3D virtual worlds. You need an understanding of what is happening within the field before you can make informed decisions. Attend tradeshows focused on 3D learning, read blogs by virtual learning thought leaders, read publications and vendor brochures, look at web sites and educate yourself on the vast number of virtual world options. Immediately limiting yourself to one or two well known virtual world vendors will limit your choices and options. Speaking with only vendors provides a limited view of the field. You need to explore. Take the time to read industry literature and become educated on the direction of the field before you rush into choosing a vendor to build a learning space.
Be specific about your requirements. Vendors cannot read your mind. They need a direction and a concept of what you want to achieve with the virtual learning world. It is acceptable to speak with vendors to help clarify what you want at trade shows and venues create for such interactions but when you finally craft a Request for Proposal, make sure you have a clear understanding of the requirements you need. The clearer you are in what you need from the vendor, the better they are able to provide you with a solution that meets your needs. Even if you want them to help craft your solution, you need to be clear that you are looking for advice and council verses looking to implement a full developed idea.
Visit the virtual space yourself. It is one thing to hear or read about a virtual learning space, it is something altogether different to immerse yourself in a 3D world. You need to become immersed in any potential virtual world you plan on purchasing. Ask the vendor if you can log into a demo site or into an example of their virtual world and explore that world for a while. Watching a machinima or example of their virtual world is not enough. You need to test drive the virtual learning environment yourself to determine how it functions, ease of navigation, comfort level with speaking to other avatars. Take time to login and see it first hand. You want to have some time by yourself to explore the product and understand how it works before you commit to a large scale implementation of that particular vendor’s virtual learning environment.
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