One common mistake organizations make in designing learning experiences in virtual worlds is failing to have specific learning objectives, either formal or informal, for the intended interactions. Some organizations create a virtual space with only vague learning outcomes and no formal assessment plan. Then, after a few months of inactivity, no visible learning outcomes and frustration, the organization drops the virtual world because it doesn’t seem productive.
The lack of learning in these instances is not a result of a failure of virtual worlds; rather it is a result of poor instructional design. Virtual worlds, like other types of planned learning events require attention to instructional design to meet their desired goals. Even if the goal is to foster informal learning, the virtual world environment must be structured appropriately to encourage and enable interaction between and among learners. If not, the result is a virtual ghost town. No one comes to visit and the place is empty.
When creating virtual learning environment, the basic tenants of instructional design still apply as they do with any new technology that enables learning. Organizations do not need to completely throw away the concepts of aligning objectives, tasks and measurement just because a new technology is available. A systematic process is required to ensure that optimal learning can occur.
Having said that, the development of a 3D learning event is far more complicated than the creation of a few slides and a couple of multiple choice questions. Ultimately the design process for creating a virtual learning world requires a modification of the traditional skill set of an instructional designer—a modification, not a totally new approach.
As a result of the modification, the design and development efforts for 3D learning events require a higher level of effort both in time and resources. The process demands both a careful crafting the learning environment (the context) as well as the mapping of the content to the appropriate Learning Archetype, the creation of learning spaces, activities and planned interactions.
You don't just "whip up" a virtual learning space or educational event, planning and foresight is required. Once a space is created, various learning events can happen which might be more impromptu but initial work is required to make the space appropriate for the type of learning interactions you envision within the virtual worlds These worlds aren't a panacea, they are another tool and need to be treated as such.
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