Immersive Virtual Worlds for (E-) Learning: Towards an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda

Immersive Virtual Worlds for (E-) Learning: Towards an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda

Matthias Rehm (Aalborg University, Denmark) and Ulla Konnerup (Aalborg University, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2670-6.ch014


Virtual worlds are becoming more popular and important for the information society, allowing people to meet “face-to-face” and at the same time be distributed across different places. This offers numerous possibilities of revolutionizing the way learning is realized over long distances and at a given location. However, current uses of environments like Second Life make it very clear that there is a lack of interaction, and the learning concepts that are tailored to these kinds of collaborative environments result more or less in the replication of “always the same,” but this time in a virtual world. An example is a typical lecture that is now available as an in-world podcast. This chapter examines current state-of-the-art approaches of learning in and with virtual worlds in relation to the features of such environments and then proposes a research agenda tailored to making the learning experience truly interactive, collaborative, multi modal, and situation- and context-aware.
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Virtual Communities Of Practice: A Socio-Constructivistic View On Learning

Two main development strands can currently be distinguished when reviewing work on learning in virtual worlds. The first one is centered on the virtual world itself. In such approaches, learning is targeted at mastering the art of controlling the virtual world itself, creating objects, and scripting simple actions. The second concept is to transfer real life teaching events into virtual world events, e.g. by providing lectures on demand or giving online lectures or seminars, which is nothing more than an elaborate video conference; often not based on didactic arguments, but with an aim to save time and cost. There are very few concepts that truly embrace the possibilities virtual worlds can offer. The TECH museum1 is such an example, where the traditional concept of a museum has been enriched with the ideas of collaborative and social interactions, allowing the layman to participate in the curatory process and propose as well as develop exhibits, which interactively demonstrate technical principles.

Our approach to learning in immersive virtual worlds is based on socio-constructivistic conceptions that learning and knowledge are culturally and historically interdependent. We are strongly influenced by Lave and Wenger's ideas about learning as participation in social context (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 2000). They describe learning as situated in communities of practice, where learning extends beyond the pedagogical structuring context and involving the social world. According to Lave and Wenger (1991), social interaction is the critical feature for this function and they describe learning as a process where the learner becomes involved in a community of practice, representing beliefs and behaviors, the learner has to acquire. Situated learning theory descended from Vygotsky’s social development theory (1978), where he claims that social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition.

Besides considering learning as a means of developing practice, learning can also be viewed as a means of development and change of identities (Wenger, 2000). It has important implications for learning, identity, and self esteem to be part of a community, both with peers and with family and friends. One of the characteristics of a community of practice is mutual engagement and participation (Wenger, 2000). A focal point of a community is a common goal. Each participant comes with his own repertoire and his own history to be distributed. In a virtual community of practice, people have the opportunity to share experiences, meanings, and repertoire, and thus create a common culture.

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