WHERE IS MY AVATAR? OPPORTUNITIES FOR LEARNING IN VIRTUAL WORLDS
University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts (SLOVENIA)
Milions of people all over the world are spending their leisure time in virtual learning environments, especially in virtual worlds. Virtual worlds present possibilities for learning in a virtual learning environment. How do education keep up with virtual worlds and leisure trends?
Virtual worlds are attracting interest from different organizations as platforms for learning. Also known as immersive environments, these systems can provide significant advantages over other learning strategies. Informal learning environments such as virtual worlds offer children and adults various intellectual and sensory activities or »crystallized« experiences, according to Gardner. A recent pedagogic concept which is important for designing interactive learning environments is also the idea of experiential pedagogy proposed by Slovene pedagogue Stanko Gogala. The main factor of the experiential pedagogy is the intense situation in which a child or an adult experiences an exciting event and engages in relationships with other children or adults and strengthens social connection cohesiveness and forms of child’s or adult’s active collaboration according to his/her own interests, needs, learning style helps to construct active learning environment, including different activities and social relations.
Virtual worlds for adults (e.g. Second Life), youth (e.g. Habbo) and children (e.g. Whyville) have a great potential of learning and teaching practices for enriching wider public and engendering collective experience and collaboration. It is important to create an environment, which would enable the children and adults to construct their knowledge on their own or through interaction with peers, objects, learning games and other activities. Virtual worlds are also creating opportunities for activities, which can not be realized in real life education. Above all, children and adults can explore things and learn in a different way and from a different perspective.
On this basis the paper will analyze learning possibilities and opportunities in educational virtual worlds (e.g. Whyville, HandiPoints…) with millions of registered accounts. All these different possibilities for learning in virtual worlds can be organized in framework or model. We can use this framework to identify learning activities in our content area and connect those activities to potential applications of virtual worlds. Basically, both virtual life and real life consist of people and objects, and these two things can interact in three possible combinations: person-person, person-object and object-object interaction. Many opportunities for learning can be categorized into these three interaction combinations.
Games and simulations are also one of the most widespread ways of learning in virtual worlds. Some games present active, deepened learning environments. Player can not be passive in the game or simulation. Children engaged in educational games and simulations are interpreting, analyzing, discovering, evaluating, acting and participating in problem solving. This approach to learning is consistent with constructivist learning, where knowledge is constructed by the learners as they are actively problem solving in an authentic context. We can efficiently use the power of learning games for learning about different topics. Virtual worlds can introduce quality learning environments and expand educational impact.