Monday, November 20

Second Life is not a teaching tool

Every week or so I hear about a company looking to Second Life as a teaching environment.

First, I have to say that Second Life is a great Web 2.0/massively multiplayer environment. I respect the ability of people to make money in Second Life. I respect the ability of people to "hang" in Second Life. I think it is great that companies are prototyping visual and structural designs in Second Life. I suggest everyone listen to the Business Week podcast.

Having said all of that, Second Life, as is, is not a teaching tool. It is content free. It is closer to a virtual classroom tool, or even a real-world meeting room or water cooler (without the actual water). Any content has to either bubble up from spontaneous conversations (great when they happen, but not predictable or scalable enough to provide an intellectual payoff), or be "brought in."

From a teaching perspective, it is like grabbing a bunch of employees, putting them in the middle of Times Square, each with a laptop and Internet connection, and maybe a box of Lego, a pad of paper, and some crayons. Will magic sometimes happen? Absolutely, as Jay Cross will point out. Will it be a program that is continued and expanded over the years (my own primary metric of success), either bottoms up or tops down? No.

And mostly, I worry that educational simulations will be lumped together with Second Life. When the "Second Life as Teaching Environment" fails due to randomness of value and experience, people will say, "Ah, avatars! Not so good after all."

The reason for my Simword series here is to highlight that the opportunity for educational simulations, and even perhaps subsequent versions of Second Life, to help people rethink
  • their own interface with the world,
  • their own situational awareness,
  • where they are versus where they want to be,
  • and nurture a greater awareness of patterns.

Only by thinking in this new way do we realize why our ability to teach the most important skills, like leadership, relationship management, stewardship, and innovation has been unnecessarily hobbled by an invisible context of linear content.

Having said all of that, maybe the best of all models will be a structured educational simulation front end experience to drive more focused behavior in the virtual worlds. Now that would be blended learning!

P.S. Speaking of Web 2.0, someone showed me Virtual Leader on YouTube! I don't know who put it up, but freaky!


Anonymous said...

I respect your opinion, but I believe if you actually log in and check out some of the places on InfoIsland or EduNation sims, you'll find that it can be an education tool because, in fact, there *is* content in SecondLife - user created.

I think it's time to slay some myths... your critical thought would be appreciated by people who are doing things in SecondLife, but maybe it's unfair to prejudge their efforts before seeing them. :-)

Clark Aldrich said...

Hi Taran,

Great points. Thank you for your important contribution to the whole conversation.

For those who have never been to InfoIsland or EduNation, how would you describe the experience and content?

Anonymous said...
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jay said...

i have to admit that when i saw this gigantic spam list, i thought maybe someone was linking to the broad array of items on second life as a demonstration that it's too large to describe except by example. guess not.


The Laughing Cowbladder said...

I am a student in Pepperdine University's Online Masters of Educational Technology. My professor has had us meeting in SL for classes over the last quarter and it has been fascinating. There is a more personalized feel to it compared to chat sessions. As this technology advances and becomes even more realistic (including audible communication), I can envision learning campuses being entirely virtual. No more need for costly buildings.

Mark said...


First, here and on your subsequent post, you can begin to see pointers to some of the educational activities going on in SL. You could also check here (

I do believe though that we should separate the current situation from the potential. There is already a lot going on inside SL from training and learning perspectives and if you plot the adoption/growth curve of something like SL against the amount of training/learning going on inside it, then I think you'll see a fairly spectacular rise. We are still at the very early stages here. (Just remembered - you shouls also check out Sloodle - - the marriage of SL and Moodle.

I also want to agree with you in the sense that of course SL did not spring full blown from Linden Lab with training included but as a platform, the potential of SL is almost unlimited. So let's make that distinction - that in an environment in which all the tools for creation are exposed to every user, the potential to create some truly amazing and effective learning grows exponentially.

Finally, any tool is only as good as the competence of its users. Classrooms can be horrible, awful places for learning in the hands of bad instructors - and that still happens and look at how long we've had classrooms! I could just substitute "classroom" for SL in your third paragraph. What I really don't want to happen is for us to only focus on the effectiveness of new technologies and act like we have once and for all settled the effectiveness of existing tools. I am actually agreeing with you and arguing for an expansion of the discussion.

p.s. Happy Thanksgiving!

Unknown said...

The criticism seems, frankly, nonsensical to me. Is a whiteboard a teaching tool? An overhead projector? PowerPoint? The Web? How does the fact that it does not come prepared with content that somebody else prepared make it "not a teaching tool"?

RP said...

Clark writes, "maybe the best of all models will be a structured educational simulation front end experience to drive more focused behavior in the virtual worlds. Now that would be blended learning!"

Not really into the whole "constructivist" notion of learning, are ye? The power of a MUVE like SL (with regard to education) is exactly what you are aguing against - its open environment that allows teachers and learners to co-construct compelling learning experiences. Your call for "structured educational content" is repulsive, really... it is the antithesis of what MUVEs can offer. If you want structured content, go use BlackBoard - they have the patent, after all.

Anonymous said...

There exist various electronic tools for education that have not exclusively been used for education, nor exclusively created for education, but have been adapted for the purpose. Already this has been done with the electronic state of an internet forum by providing the right sence of organiztional controls. The same can be done with Second Life. Is there ground that needs to be yet obtained? Naturally.

When will all the improvements be reached? With more use of such media more infrastructure will always be required, continually and addictively. It never ends. But to discount Second Life as a learning tool because of this? It is doubtful that the author of The Learning Circuits Blog has fully considered yet the full nature of what Second Life is.

It is also not unusual for a college or university to use a diversity of electronic tools, not exclusively relying on just one. As one technology, though, grows in usefulness, it is therefore used more.

Such complaints have existed about e-learning in general in the past but more and more e-learning has expanded. The Learning Circuits Blog "having said all of that" says a most absurd statement by saying, "Second Life is not a teaching tool". The fact of the matter is that Second Life is presently being used as a teaching tool. The emphasis is being placed for it to develop further as one.

Without continuing to describe all here, consider the future that Second Life now opens the door to...

Anonymous said...

I've been exploring second life specifically to see if it can be a learning tool. Almost anything can be used as a learning tool and SL is no exception. Can it be a serious learning tool is the real question. I doubt that it ever will be more than a gimmick. I'm sure that it is good for a few grant dollars or keeping employees from complaining about how boring their training session is; however your Time Square & crayon analogy sums it up.

SL is a niche M.M.E. primarely focused on sex, gambling and greed.The Linden PR machine has over hyped its potential. Its hard to hear the hype and not check it out if you're interested in new training or educational platforms; however most trainers and educators will abandon it just like those who wade into SL for sex, gambling and greed.

subquark said...

I contend that Second Life can be a teaching tool. Or at least a tool used in teaching. Here are two examples:

As an interview tool. As a teacher, I can interview someone in Second Life (such as a scientist, author, etc) and do it live or record it and reuse it.

The second example is to use Second Life as a 3D animation tool like Blender 3D. This way I can create scenarios, etc and use that video in presentations or as part of eLearning.

I could even create something like the water cycle in Second Life (I taught 10 yeras, some as a high school teacher and some as a college professor - geology). That way I could move my avatar around, film it, and show a more engaging video than a static image.

And none of this invloves bring the learner into Second Life! :)

Thanks for the great post!

Carlos Mayora said...

I pretty much agree with Dokimos. Blogs were not created for educational purposes and yet, look at us now.