If we take the concept of immersive E-Learning to its ultimate transformation, we enter into the world of augmented and virtual reality environments. An important question to ask is:
"If we want to harness the power of the new virtual and augmented technologies to serve pedagogy, what will our pedagogical practices look like in this new learning environment and is it better than what we already have?"
Second Life, Open Sim and other virtual environments have given us a glimpse into how we can interact with other participants in a created environment. However, the question that challenges us is how can such technology enrich our pedagogical practices so that we achieve "true learning communities" both within the corporate setting and the setting of formal education?
A point that has been made in the past and bares repeating is that our pedagogy can not remain as a static entity in the evolving world of immersive E-Learning. It must be agile, adaptive and keep the purpose of education in clear sight. Just like exploring a new land for the first time, the augmented and virtual environments require that learners acquire new skill sets that will allow them to collaborate in a new virtual environment. Movement and lines of communication in a new environment are essentials.
One of the better means of making use of virtual technology in the design of learning experiences is through simulations that combine problem based learning with the benefits of experiential learning. It would be naive to believe that this does not involve challenges as the following chart indicates:
|Credit: Cynthia Cologue(Institute for Advanced Studies)|
If we are to move into more innovative pedagogies that utilize virtual and augmented technologies, then we need to design irresistible learning experiences that capitalize on what these environments have to offer. In a previous set of posts in this blog titled: "The Search for the Emerald Key", I created a scenario that was a narrative adventure that unfolded as result of decisions made by the collaborators. It had the following characteristics:
- Collaborative problem solving
- Branched scenarios based upon decisions made by the participants
- Altered role of the educator to take on the role of a mentor who could be called upon a limited number of times and then only responds to questions with other questions to re-focus the thinking of the participants. The educator also was given the power to interject confounding unexpected variables into the scenario while in progress to test the problem solving ability of the participants under stress conditions involving time limits and suggested consequences of actions.
- Ongoing assessment both on an individual basis and on a group basis
- Involvement of Instructional Designers, Game Designers, Learning Principles experts and trainers as part of the assessment team who assess the participants.
- Ongoing feed back for the participants during the scenario and after the scenario.
- A branching scenario at the end which is completely novel and unexpected where the collaborators can test out their new skillsets.
- Connections to other global networks
- Learning to access and analyze multiple online global databases as a team tasked with solving a problem
We already have technology to create virtual worlds in such programs as Unity 3D, Cryengine3 and Daz which is an excellent program for creating avatars and which also has a wealth of resources created by media artists so that you don't have to do everything from scratch. We can learn much from the serious game design industry and its benefits to E-Learning can be clearly seen.
- Four pedagogical approaches can be discerned within the context of a virtual world which are: (a) Associative (transmitting information), (b) Social Constructivist (forming ideas by discussion), (c) Connectivist (emerging from interaction between people), and (d) Cognitive (problem solving).
- Game based scenarios offer benefits over both more restricted and more open ended approaches.
- Virtual worlds which were much over-hyped as educational tools at the beginning are starting to reach the mainstream as useful when it comes to productivity.
- Appropriate design is crucial and the designs will involve: (a) task-and game-based scenarios in the fashion similar to that which I have shown in the "Search for the Emerald Key", (b) closely linked to situations that students and professionals will meet in "real life". The experiences have to go beyond just entertainment. They have to be meaningful and lead to growth for the individual, and (c) learning through collaboration