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Monday, January 29, 2007

Definition: Massively Multi-learner Online Learning Environment (MMOLE)

Massively Multi-learner Online Learning Environment: MMOLE is a genre of computer generated learning environments in which large numbers of learners interact with each other in a virtual three-dimensional (3D) world with the goal of learning.

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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Sean FitzGerald said...

This sounds like a great description, but is it for anything existing, or is it a wishlist for an as-yet undeveloped product? Can you point to any examples?

Karl Kapp said...

Thanks for the comment.

The closest I have seen is by a company named ProtonMedia. They have a product called the ProtoSphere.

It does almost everything mentioned in terms of app share, whiteboard, VoIP complete with avatars. However, it doesn't yet allow you to create your own content within the virtual world but I do believe they are working on it. I meet with the President on Monday so I will let you know.


Bart said...

What I find interesting is the lingo here. This is something I tried to define and discuss in a paper I co-authored with Keith Bailey called Establishing Virtual Learning Worlds (VLWs). I see what you're describing here, and what I call VLWs, as being one in the same. Then you have Chris Dede working in this same space calling them Multi-user Virtual Environments (referring to educational MMOs), and probably a handful of other names. I look forward the acronym journey ahead!

Karl Kapp said...


Is good to know that many smart people are working on the concept. I like the idea of Multi-learner since learning can occur both through the world itself and, as important, through the interactions with others. It is an exciting time to be involved with instructional design. Saw your island today. Can't wait to visit.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karl,

Nice post. Does it matter if the same software is used for all parts if data is shared in the background? You'll see why I ask below...

Funnily enough, I picked the term
Massively Multi-Learner
for a workshop running here at Paisley (UK) March 22nd. Synchronicity is a great thing!

The workshop will cover the use of MMO's for education - most of the speakers are using Second Life, as it happens.

And one project I am working with others on - Sloodle - is trying to build tools to integrate web-based VLE/LMS such as Moodle with Second Life. I think that should surely count as a prototype MMOLE. Even though it
does rely on two different software packages :D


Karl Kapp said...


Great minds think alike :)

I think the important thing about environments like SL is the chance for the learners to interact with each other as well as with the instructor and the term "multi-learner" really encompasses that idea.

I have begun to look at Sloodle and do think it does qualify as a MMOLE (as if I was in the position to "qualify" platforms as MMOLE).

Feel free to use the term, I am hoping it gains some traction because it really seems to embody the idea of multiple learners working together online to achieve learning goals which is what many of us are after.

I thinking linking to an LMS is a great idea. For example, what if we could track head nodding and hand raising to track "participation" or track comments in chats to see if they understand the content...many possibilities and keep up the good work on Sloodle, I think it has great potential for making SL more of a "trackable" learning envrionment...hopefully that doesn't go against all that SL stands for...I don't think it does.


Anonymous said...

My group has been doing this with our software since 2001. Integrated multi-user audio, 3D environment, instructional interfaces, etc. We call it a 3D online learning environment, since it works in both single (narrative driven) or multi-user modes.

The issue isn't the technology. I was thinking about this when I was a graduate student in the mid-90's. I started a group to develop such software in 2000. We have been doing R&D and pilot testing of the software in educational settings since 2003.

The issue that faces us is not the technology but the creation of environments that work in specific learning settings and outcomes in a time frame that makes it equal or better than existing educational/instructional methods.

How do you combine the instructional design, learning affordances, and the technology to achieve measurable learning outcomes in a manner that makes sense. My research at the Univ of North Texas with Scott Warren is focused on trying to answer that question.

Unless we can define the ways these systems really work well in educational and learning settings, then they will just be another passing fad.

Always glad to see people following along with a long held vision and research focus.

Cheers - Dr. Greg Jones

Karl Kapp said...

Dr. Jones,

Thanks for the note and for the link to your research, I am anxious to check it out. I think the attention that 3D metaverses like SL are getting will really propel the work you have pioneered. I agree that proper instructional design, story telling and use of the unique properties of 3D worlds is the way to go.

In fact, the class I am teaching is Second Life is all about the instructional design aspects of 3D worlds as opposed to the technological aspect. What learning designs are effective for 3D? How does a designer create a 3D world to take advantate of the unique aspects of 3D?

Can't wait to read your research results and design guidelines...glad to tap into someone who has been doing this for a while.