Question:  Do virtual worlds offer more advantages over more traditional learning environments?


Before I can answer this question, I needed to understand the meaning of traditional learning environments.  I found this awesome table from a blog written by Kate Petty:


TRADITIONAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

NEW LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Teacher-centred instruction

Student-centred instruction

Single sense stimulation

Multi-sensory stimulation

Single media

Multimedia

Isolated work

Collaborative work

Information delivery

Information exchange – communication

Passive learning

Active/exploratory/inquiry-based learning

Factual, knowledge-based

Critical thinking and informed decision-making

Reactive response

Proactive/planned action

Isolated, artificial context

Authentic, real-world context


After reviewing the comparison chart above, I can with certainty say YES!  Virtual worlds are:  student-centered, multisensory, have multimedia, collaborative, inquiry-based, created for critical thinking, proactive, and made with an authentic context.  This chart compares traditional and modern learning environments.  Modern learning environments include virtual worlds, but there are other modern learning environments that use other web 2.0 tools and PBL environments like blogging, web-conferencing, global projects, etc.  


I have used VR in my classroom (with Quest Atlantis), and I can see the excitement and enthusiasm when the students play.  They’ve told me they didn’t know they were learning while they were playing.  But, the reflections and comments they write along the way tell me they are learning, understanding, and applying what they learn to solve a problem or complete a task in the VR.  If the students were assigned the same problem, but had to research and write a 3 paragraph essay about what they learned, there would be no excitement, no asking to do more lessons, and less collaboration.


I don’t know if I can say that there’s a time and place for VR because the program I was trained to learn shows us how it can be incorporated almost anywhere in the curriculum.  I would say that the teacher needs to be motivated, open-minded, and eager to try something out of the ordinary.  There is also the fear of other students in the VR typing inappropriate things (which does happen) and dealing with that “issue”.  One of the main reasons the students are in the VR is to speak to other students on the missions, ask questions, inquire, and learn from students who have been playing longer than them.  If a student does something inappropriately, students are equipped to know what to do.  These are teachable moments and hopefully will happen so that other students will learn from them.


When students learn through multi-sensory environments, they learn many times over.  Participating in educational virtual worlds gives the students multi-sensory environments and learning can be fun as well as educational!

 

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