Monday, August 31, 2009

Is 3D 1.0 or 2.0?

Is learning in a 3D virtual world a web 1.0 experience, or a web 2.0 experience? Or is it something new and different altogether?

I'll always remember the first time I ventured into one of these environments... it felt like a waking dream. It was a place called, which is still around but has long been overshadowed by Second Life. This was 2005, maybe, and I had no preconceived notions. I found the experience almost mind-altering. I could see, hear, walk, run, travel wherever I wanted in a place where everything was pristine and peaceful and artfully displayed, all very real in an unreal way. Or very unreal in a real way. Very much like a dream. Everyone there looked great. Heck, I looked great. I wasn't pushing 50; I was 28. I could walk without growing weary, run and not faint. It was fun. Exhilarating. Then when I moved to Second Life, I discovered I could also fly. Fly! Now that's a waking dream.

But the rush wore off as I discovered that there are only so many things to do in a manufactured alternate universe. I didn't really know anyone there, and when I did it was sort of embarrassing. Because it wasn't really them, it was their avatar, and it was all a little like playing with puppets. Very cool puppets. And while that's fun, it's not nearly so rich as Real Life (RL), where you know everyone's Real Names, and everything Really Matters.

Then I discovered that IBM was all over Second Life. And so were major, mainstream, prestigious universities. They still are. They want to use this technology for learning. This was a bit of a shock, since I have deep experience in convincing big corporations and high-profile universities that technology is the future of learning. I started struggling on that path in about 1992. I remember the Executive Education Network, EXEN, which delivered Wharton & Harvard to Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. We had to do a lot of selling, and offer a lot of free trials, before they would admit that it worked.

These were the same organizations (some of them) who had barely dipped a toe in the waters of web 1.0 elearning. They put their CD's online, sure. They bought a license to Blackboard and let the more reckless professors fill it up with class schedules and assigned readings, use the grade book feature. And they watched long and hard as the true pioneers ventured out, took the arrows, and somehow didn't fail. And these are organizations (some of them) who have barely felt a breeze from the web 2.0 winds. Facebook? Twitter? There must be a punchline coming. Podcasting? Well, okay, maybe. If it gets my lectures listened to.

But as organizations, they have not wholly embraced any learning technology before, and certainly not the core validity of a whole different learning paradigm. They have not readily accepted the fact that online, all students have equal opportunity. That no one is judged for their looks, or by their physical limitations. That no one gets to dominate class time. Or gets to hide in the back row. Everyone learns. Everyone expresses the truth as they see it, and everyone else comments. Graciously, generously, because there is no 'cool factor' (or the educational equivalent, gravitas) that must be maintained. Community grows... educational community. People of a thousand interests gathered around just one, and sharing it until it gets honed to a passion.

So why the virtual land-grab by the big boys with the big guns? I eventually figured it out. The reason was, it didn't seem like such a big leap to them. It was as though a 3D earthquake somehow reduced the chasm between the traditional classroom and the digital classroom to one little step. One small step, a tiny download, and you're there. Look, there's our administration building! I can walk there. And there's Munger Hall, where my class is meeting in 10 minutes. I can run to it. And look over there, it's a training room with video screens and yes, interactive keypads! I can talk to everyone. It's live. It's what I already know.

And that's a good thing. And yet... does something get lost in this digital dreamland? Or rather, are we in danger of losing ground we've already gained, inch by inch, in web 1.0 elearning? We can talk there, and hear one another, sure. Thats excellent. But how do we ensure that nobody gets to dominate the virtual discussion? That no one can sit in the back and not participate? How do we make sure that when we take that step across the chasm we are not taking an important step backward?

The answer is... we apply what we know. We hang on to what works. We develop the technologies that keep the playing field even. It will take some design work, and some coding, and it will need to be done by those who know what works. But when we get it working, we'll have something more powerful than web 1.0 or 2.0. When we can take all that makes elearning so effective and add to it the color, depth, dimension, sound, and semi-chaos of people side by side, face to face, learning something new together, not puppets but people with real names and histories, people who are themselves (but better looking!) then we won't be dipping our toes into elearning waters any more. We'll be riding the tsunami.

Or rather, we'll be flying.

No comments:

Post a Comment