Researching the Effectiveness of Virtual Worlds

I attended a very good session at the Masie Conference where folks from HP, Intel, Accenture, to name just a few, discussed the issues around applying virtual worlds in the corporate context.

One of the big issues that seems to be coming out is that corporate decision makers want EVIDENCE that Immersive Learning Experiences are more efficient and effective than traditional learning approaches.

However, one of the issues we consistently run up against is that in order to measure “apples to apples” on the efficiency outcome variable (i.e. can you learn and retain as much in the virtual world as you can via instructor led training or web based training). The underlying issue here is that in limiting ourselves to comparing apples to apples when it comes to knowledge retention we limit the very thing that makes the virtual world so special: Serendipitous, peer-based, discovery based experential learning. Put more curtly, it is why when we take stakeholders into a virtual world they immediately ask “where are the classrooms, I don’t see anyone learning in here?” Rogers classic on the Diffusion of Innovations has taught us that Familiarity is a necessary rite of passage on the road to fundamental disruptive innovation, but I sure hope that the era of digital avatars in digital classrooms watching digital documents will be a very short lived meme.

This evening, after many hours of wrestling with this challenge, things became clear. We need to separate the WHAT (Declarative Knowledge) from the How (Procedural Knowledge). Most ILT and traditional learning is about topic not task. It is about what not how. The virtual world is all about HOW and learning WHILE doing. Most traditional pedagogical approaches are focused on learning BEFORE doing. Thus it is not appropriate to compare ILT to Virtual Worlds because they actually are based in fundamentally different instructional paradigms. ILT is about content while Immersive Learning Experiences are about context. ILT is about Topic while ILE is about Task while ILT is about What, ILE is about HOW. ILT is about Knowing while ILE is about Doing,

If history does not repeat, it certainly rhymes. This should sound familiar to many of us. (Hint: Think Blended Learning). A blend that brings the value of immersive learning to provide an experience where the “WHAT” can be synthesized, understood within the context of task and internalized in an authentic way.

The ILE adds to the ILT as the bridge that finally straddles the Knowlng-Doing Gap that Pfeiffer and Sutton highlited in their excellent book a few years ago.

Finally, as we work on the evaluation it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the very cool work that my friends and colleagues Mitzi Montoya (NCSU) and Anne Massey (Indiana) are doing to develop an instrument that captures Perceived Virtual Presence. I will be using their PVP instrumentation in my evaluations from here on out as those of us in the academic world try to create an overarching evaluation rubric to look at perception, efficiency and effectiveness of Virtual Worlds. You can read about their very cool and innovative research here.

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  1. ryan

     /  October 31, 2008

    When do you think they will take that conference virtual? I mean, doesn’t it seem odd to have a conference in the “real” world about learning in the “virtual” world? If learning in virtual worlds is better, why wouldn’t they do it? It sure would drive costs down (no fancy convention centers, hotel rooms, flights, etc.). Just a thought…

  2. Hi Tony,

    I enjoyed reading your post. A lot of work we do relates to technical hands-on training with physical access to equipment. There is a lot of “how-to” in these ILTs. Do you think your argument extends to those types of training as well?

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  1. Bridging the gap | Workplace Learning Today

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