Virtual Worlds in Education – Designing Innovative and Meaningful Learning Experiences

Virtual world (VW) educators highlight the unique affordance of immersion that VWs have over other innovative Web 2.0 technologies as a significant factor in their decisions to develop learning experiences in VW environments (Lee, 2009; Jacka, 2015). The immersive experience of a three dimensional environment is more meaningful because participants can interact with other people and objects in the VW in real time (synchronously). Growing commercial interest in VW technologies has focussed on virtual reality (VR) and haptic sensors that create an enhanced feeling of immersion that is defined as presence. Participants wearing headsets (3D goggles/ masks) experience presence because the 3D graphics interact with a gyroscope that creates visual illusions according to movement thereby tricking the brain into anticipating certain sensations such as anti- gravity. Miriam Reiner has concluded from scientific research with haptics that the sensation of touch can be created with gloves that can feel like water, rock or metal (Mind CET, 2015 – Click here to view the video).


Educators are utilising the unique affordances of VWs to create activities toward ‘innovative and meaningful learning experiences’ because they utilise Web 2.0 technologies to connect people from global locations (Hasler, 2011). Using these connectivist approaches to learning is not a unique affordance of virtual worlds, however, co – creating a culturally meaningful space is (Paiva, 2015). Immersion in VWs can facilitate social- constructivist learning experiences because participants who interact through an avatar have the ability to connect with and co-construct knowledge (Lee, 2009; Seimens, 2005). The co- construction of culturally meaningful virtual spaces is an innovative approach to learning experiences that addresses Lee’s (2009) criteria for successful VW education environments.


OpenSim educators realise the potential opportunities that virtual worlds provide to create social and cultural capital (Joksimović, 2015). The Open Worlds Project has sought to develop social- constructivist based activities in virtual world environments using the ancient capital of Persepolis as a focus of cross- cultural understanding. The Persepolis region of the Open worlds Project provides all of the affordances of virtual world technology for learning experiences. Teachers and students can learn together about the culture of ancient Persia. The architecture, social order, treasury and economic characteristics of Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes’ empires can be investigated in open ended collaborative ways with other teachers and students across the globe.


Lee (2009) highlights the need for a structured facilitation of open ended virtual world activities and projects. The Persepolis Project addresses this by creating a networked scaffold of activities that students can work on in any order. To be successful in the tasks, requirements stipulate that students must demonstrate individual achievements, as well as having acknowledged the degree of collaborative contributions from other members of their task. Difficult tasks such as treasure hunts that focus on an application and evaluation of terms such as ‘glocalisation’ require certain knowledge and skills to achieve success (Yetis-Larsson, et. al., 2015). Failure in these tasks is rewarded through a self reflective process and simpler activities are recommended for students to build the knowledge and skills to progress.


OpenSim provides educators with the ability to save and alter their virtual world regions (as an oar file) and this data can be shared using Open publication methods to facilitate the creation of networked social capital (Lin,1999). The sharing of these virtual spaces as an artefact that was built from global co- creation in a connectivist environment is a unique and exciting affordance of virtual worlds. OpenSim educators can utilise these technologies to participate in a shift that education is taking from analogue to digital just like photography did over a decade ago. Who still uses film? While some enthusiasts still use film and vinyl, and there will always be a place for this in popular culture and art, it is an arguably unsustainable way to continue with the production of education artefacts.




Hasler, B. S. (2011). Intercultural collaborative learning in virtual worlds. Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, 4, 265-304.


Jacka, L. (2015). Virtual worlds in pre-service teacher education: the introduction of virtual worlds in pre-service teacher education to foster innovative teaching-learning processes. Retrieved from


Joksimović, S., Dowell, N., Skrypnyk, O., Kovanović, V., Gašević, D., Dawson, S., & Graesser, A. C. (2015, March). How do you connect?: analysis of social capital accumulation in connectivist MOOCs. In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics And Knowledge (pp. 64-68). Retrieved from


Lee, M. (2009). How can 3D virtual worlds be used to support collaborative learning? An analysis of cases from the literature. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 5(1). Retrieved from


Lin, N. (1999). Building a network theory of social capital. Connections, 22(1), 28-51. Retrieved from


Mind CET. (June 15th, 2015). Miriam Reiner at Shaping The Future 3. Retrieved from


Paiva, D. (2015). Experiencing Virtual Places: Insights on the Geographies of Sim Racing. Journal of Cultural Geography, 32(2), 145.


Siemens G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network creation. E-learnspace. [Article] Retrieved from


Yetis-Larsson, Z., Teigland, R., & Dovbysh, O. (2015). Networked Entrepreneurs How Entrepreneurs Leverage Open Source Software Communities. American Behavioral Scientist, 59(4), 475-491. Retrieved from

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