Experiential learning and virtual worlds

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1 Introduction

This wiki explores some of the links between experiential learning and virtual worlds.

Donna Millard
Memorial University

2 Experiential learning

Experiential learning—making sense of the world through engagement (Beard & Wilson, 2006, p. 19)—has been firmly established in the field of education by several key theorists such as Kolb, Dewey, Jung and Piaget (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 160; Miettinen, 2000). The focus of experiential learning is on the learner and their past and present experiences (Kolb, Boyatzis & Mainemelis, 2002). While some, like Kolb (1984), divide the learning activity into unique experiences such as active participation, reflection, conceptualizing and new idea generation, the focus is still on past experience positively affecting the learning opportunity. The learner also has more control over the learning situation and direct s the experience (Beard & Wilson, 2006, p. 21-23). This individual experience can be more interesting to the learner as they are more directly involved in the experience applying their previous knowledge to the new experience. This oftentimes means that the learner achieves better results due to their involvement and enthusiasm (De Freitas, Rebolledo-Mendez, Liarokapis, Magoulas & Poulovassilis, 2010). Teachers assume a facilitative role only as the learner is the main participant. The teacher’s main role is to develop the potential learning opportunities that best suit the learning needs of the individual (Beard & Wilson, 2006, p. 48-49). These learning opportunities need to be engaging and relevant to the learner themselves (Beard & Wilson, 2002; Silberman, 2007). Teachers also provide that critical feedback on the learning experience so the learner is kept focussed. While this learning style has been firmly established in the education field, what is new is the relationship to virtual technologies such as Second Life.

3 Virtual worlds

Second Life (SL) is one example of a 3-D virtual world which is created by the “residents” of SL to be “entertaining, entrepreneurial, educating—whatever you want it to be” (Linden Labs, 2010). Linden Labs first created SL in the late 1990s and it has grown significantly as both an entertaining product as well as a place to learn in the last decade. As an avatar, the participant can be what they want and participate in an unlimited number of activities including attending virtual classroom (Ramaswami, 2009; Falloon, 2010). Wagner (2008) argues that virtual world users learn new behaviours, repeat them, observe what they have learned and adjust their behaviours next time (p. 263). Hew and Cheung (2007) further argue the connections that virtual worlds like SL allow the student “to learn by doing, to observe the outcomes of their actions, to test their hypotheses about the world and to reflect further on their own understanding” (p. 37). Hew and Cheung (2010) also provide a thorough review of research on use of virtual worlds in K-12 and post-secondary settings.

4 Virtual worlds and experiential learning

Wagner (2008) used SL as a safe environment for business students to create virtual businesses as part of a formal course and evaluate their success in a virtual revenue generating environment. This safe environment allowed the group to be more adventurous in their projects than if they were creating them live. No actual monies were gained or lost. All of the students successfully completed the project and found the experience rewarding. [www.pepperdine.edu Pepperdine University] students created three-dimensional objects in SL to assist with character development in a novel studied in the classroom (Oishi, 2007). Vergara, Caudell, Goldsmith, and Alverson (2008) support the use of multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) with simulating sick patients for medical students to practice upon to make diagnoses and receive feedback on their decisions. Students found the simulation successful in that they could review and repeat the process to achieve better results.

Virtual games have also been developed to provide learning opportunities in courses related to computer science, economics, politics, health, environment and globalization (Sourin, Sourina, & Prasolova-Forland, 2006; Castranova, 2001; Cox, 1999; Cooper, 2007; Hofstede & Pedersen, 1999). All of these examples use simulation to get the students to apply the knowledge learned in class to a virtual life setting. The students learn from the virtual experience and develop better skill sets. Delwiche (2006) used the virtual world as an ethnographic study for his students. In Everquest, a fantasy themed massively multiplayer on-line (MMO) game, students actually studied the virtual inhabitants in the game to see how they had developed as a culture. From the experiences they witnessed and had, they learned the skills of an ethnographer.

Other educational institutions and training facilities have used the virtual world as a learning forum. Cabanero-Johnson and Berge (2009) investigated the use of microworlds as a corporate training ground. By creating “digital sandboxes” employees were able to train on new techniques in a learn-by-doing setting. Combining their previous on-the-job experience with the sandbox training improved employee negotiation skills and overall corporate fiscal performance (p. 296). Orfinger (1998) draws a parallel between touring interactive museum sites and live field trips at an elementary school level. By experiencing virtual environments, the students may be interested in finding out more about the topic and may learn more about it. Dickey (2005) investigated the use of virtual worlds for provision of distance education using Active Worlds, a similar virtual world setting as SL. Students were made comfortable in a setting that was similar to what they would encounter if they attended class on the physical campus. Findings indicated that this fostered a sense of community and better problem solving resulted in a business course. Also using Active Worlds, Holmes (2007) investigated the impact of this virtual world on a grade 5 ecosystem experiments.

Research both supports and negates the potential of virtual worlds as experiential learning tools. Foreman (2004) argues that students may not be able to apply the knowledge learned in their virtual situations and apply them to real life situations. Mason commented on her and Moutahir’s work in 2006, (2007) "that by utilizing the affordances of the Second Life platform to create experiences that are infeasible or impossible in the real world, educators can create superior learning experiences to those which do not offer virtual components" (p. 14).

To date, much of the literature published is more anecdotal and descriptive in nature. Examples of this anecdotal literature are found in works by Castronova (2001), Cooper (2007), Cox (1999), Delwiche (2006), Weusijana, Svihla, Gawel and Bransford (2009) and Vergara (2008). As with any new technology, further empirical research (Cohen, 2007, p. 11) is required before an informed decision can be made linking virtual worlds and experiential learning. However the demand for more empirical research is growing (Jarmon, 2009). Hew (2010), Holmes (2007), Jarmon, Traphagan, Mayrath, and Trivedi (2009), Dalgarno and Lee (2010), and Sourin (2006) provide examples of empirical research completed recently.

5 References

Beard, C. & Wilson, J. (2002). The power of experiential learning. London: Kogan Page.

Beard, C. & Wilson, J. (2006). Experiential learning: A best practice handbook for educators and trainers (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page.

Cabanero-Johnson, P. & Berge, Z. (2009). Digital natives: Back to the future of microworlds in a corporate learning organization. The Learning Organization, 16(4), 290-297. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/10.1108/09696470910960383

Castronova, E. (2001). Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier. The Gruter Institute working papers on law, economics, and evolutionary biology. 2. Retrieved from http://www.bepress.com/giwp/default/vol2/iss1/art1

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2007). Research methods in education. (6th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Cooper, T. (2007). Nutrition game. In D. Livingston & J. Kemp (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second Life education workshop 2007. (pp. 47-50). Chicago, IL. Retrieved from http://www.simteach.com/slccedu07proceedings.pdf

Cox, B. (1999). Achieving intercultural communication through computerized business simulation/games. Simulation & Gaming, 30(1), 38-50. doi: 10.1177/104687819903000106

Dalgarno, B. & Lee, M. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 10-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01038.x

De Freitas, S., Rebolledo-Mendez, G., Liarokapis, F., Magoulas, G., & Poulovassilis, A. (2010). Learning as immersive experiences: Using the four-dimensional framework for designing and evaluating immersive learning experiences in a virtual world. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 69-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01024.x

Delwiche, A. (2006). Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) in the new media classroom. Educational Technology & Society, 9(3), 160-172.

Dickey, M. (2003). Teaching in 3-D: Pedagogical affordances and constraints of 3D virtual worlds for synchronous distance learning. Distance Education, 24(1), 105-121.

Dickey, M. (2005). Three-dimensional virtual worlds and distance learning: Two case studies of Active Worlds as a medium for distance learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(3), 439-451. Retrieved from http://mchel.com/Papers/BJET_36_3_2005.pdf

Falloon, G. (2010). Using avatars and virtual environments in learning: What do they have to offer? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 108-122. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00991.x

Foreman, J. (2004). Next-generation: Educational technology versus the lecture. Educause Review, July/August, 12-22. Retrieved from http://web.reed.edu/cis/tac/meetings/Next%20Generation%20Ed%20Tech.pdf

Hew, K. & Cheung, W. (2010). Use of three-dimensional (3-D) immersive virtual worlds in K-12 and higher education settings: A review of the research. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 33-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00900.x

Hofstede, G. & Pedersen, P. (1999). Synthetic cultures: Intercultural learning through simulation games. Simulation & Gaming, 30(4), 415-440. doi: 10.1177/104687819903000402

Holmes, J. (2007). Designing agents to support learning by explaining. Computers & Education, 48(4), 523-525.

Jarmon, L., Traphagan, T., Mayrath, M., & Trivedi, A. (2009). Virtual world teaching, experiential learning, and assessment: An interdisciplinary communication course in Second Life. Computers & Education, 53, 169-182. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2009.01.010

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kolb, D., Boyatzis, R. & Mainemelis, C. (2002). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. In R.J. Sternberg & L.F. Zhang (Eds.), Perspectives on thinking, learning and cognitive styles. (pp. 227-248). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Linden Labs. (2010). What is Second Life? Retrieved January 15, 2010 from http://lindenlab.com/

Mason, H. (2007). Experiential education in Second Life. In D. Livingston & J. Kemp (Eds.), Proceedings of the Second Life education workshop 2007. (pp. 14-18). Chicago, IL. Retrieved from http://www.simteach.com/slccedu07proceedings.pdf

Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Miettinen, R. (2000). The concept of experiential learning and John Dewey’s theory of reflective thought and action. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 19(1), 54-72.

Oishi, L. (2007). Surfing Second Life: What does Second Life have to do with real life learning. Technology & Learning, 27(11), 54-62. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/article/7460

Orfinger, B. (1998). Virtual science museums as learning environments: Interactions for education. Informal Learning Review, 33(1), 8-13. Retrieved from http://www.informallearning.com/archive/1998-1112-a.htm

Ramaswami, R. (2009). Best of both worlds. Campus Technology, 23(1), 30-31. Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2009/09/01/Immersive-Education.aspx

Silberman, M. (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Sourin, A., Sourina, O. & Prasolova-Forland, E. (2006). Cyber-learning in cyerworlds. Journal of Case on Information Technology, 8(4), 55-70. Retrieved from http://www3.ntu.edu.sg/home/eosourina/Papers/jcit_2006.pdf

Vergara, V., Caudell, T., Goldsmith, P.,& Alverson, D. (2008). Knowledge-driven design of virtual patient simulations. Innovate, 5(2). Retrieved from http://innovateonline.info/

Wagner, C. (2008). Learning experience with virtual worlds. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(3), 263-266.

Weusijana, B., Svihla, V., Gawel, D., & Bransford, J. (2009). MUVES and experiential learning: Some examples. Innovate, 5(5). Retrieved from http://innovateonline.info/