Serious Virtual Worlds
A scoping study
One of the problems with this area is that there is a plethora of virtual worlds available and practitioners do not always know which one to use and in which contexts. In order to help practitioners to identify the worlds that are the most relevant for their particular learning context, the report presents an overview of the available virtual worlds, describing in particular the serious virtual worlds that have educational potential or have been used in education and training settings. However, stepping beyond this traditional mode of teacher and learner, the report also aims to foreground how learners themselves are becoming a more central component in the use of immersive worlds, creating learning experiences for themselves and adopting a more exploratory mode of learning.
The aim of the report then is two-fold: to provide a context for learning practitioners and policy makers, aiding with their understanding of virtual worlds and how they can be selected and used in tertiary education; and to highlight how learners, through greater empowerment, may play a different and enriched role in the process of forming collaborative learning experiences and engaging in activities which may support their own learning and meta-reflection.
Learning through engagement in immersive worlds has been documented in previous work, as noted. But perhaps counter-intuitively, the emphasis on engagement has evolved from greater empowerment of the learner through learner control (eg over their avatar). While of course this learner control does not automatically lead to exploratory, challenge and problem-based learning experiences, the opportunities for learners to meld and define their learning experiences or pathways, using the virtual mediations within virtual worlds, has the potential to invert the more hierarchical relationships associated with traditional learning, thereby leading to more learner-led approaches based upon activities for example. This implied inversion of the norms of education does of course at its heart offer a direct challenge to our understanding of how we learn. Structure for learning is no longer posited through knowledge acquisition. Instead we have the real capability to offer very practical engagement and social interactions with realistic contexts, to offer conceptual experimentation and to create role plays that facilitate for example different interpretations of historical events and more textured use of information (eg overlay of data and images) to scaffold learning.
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