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March 17, 2007

Social Learning in 3D

Mmole_example While products such as "Second Life" are getting a lot of hype in terms of a 3D learning. An up and coming product that combines the best of Second Life with the best of software products like Centra is called ProtoSphere, I had the chance to check out this sofware and found it fascinating.

It is created by a company called ProtonMedia and it is a 3D space that allows a learner's avatar to wander around freely from one location to another and to visit large, small and even medium size classrooms. Soon other types of spaces will be available (offices). It looks a bit like VirtualLeader but you get to control the avatar so it is not a simulation.

I label this type of software a MMOLE--Massively Multilearner Online Learning Environment. Others have different names...but the concept is the same, develop a 3D environment where people can learn is 3D. What I find especially interesting about the ProtoSphere is the emphasis on social networking tools. The product has built in blogs and a "search" function to find people with the same business interests as you. The goal is to allow someone in a large company to search for someone with specific knowledge and then to meet the person in the 3D space.

The social aspects will be interesting, many people enter into a space like Second Life and then drop out because there is "nothing to do" or they don't have a goal and end up just wandering around. But, if you went into the space, found someone who had knowledge that you needed and then you could virtually meet with them, this may cause some people to rethink the value of 3D spaces. I think they can be very beneficial in sharing knowledge across large multinational organizations. No matter how well a presention with PowerPoint slides and voice over distance is created, there is always a level of detachment. I wonder if a 3D environment will keep more people focused for a longer period of time since they are sitting with colleagues in a 3D space.

One final clarification...so how is the product like Centra? Well it has an instructor mode that allows an instructor to manage a classroom. See who raises their hand, write on a whiteboard and even application share. Again, this seems like the next natural level of distance learning. With kids growing up playing in 3D spaces encountered in video games and the teen grid of Second Life, we in the training and development field need to create learning spaces in 3D.

Karl Kapp is the Assistant Director of Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies and a professor of instructional technology. See his own blog, Kapp Notes for information on the convergence of learning and technology.


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