Monday, July 30, 2007

Does What You Learn in Second Life Transfer to Real Life?

"Second Life" is an example of an immersive environment, a simulated world in which participants can move around a landscape, communicate, create things, etc. On EDUCAUSE Connect I have been listening to an excellent podcast:

The moderator, Alan Levine of the New Media Consortium, asked participants at one point the question in the title of this posting. I think participants' responses are quite interesting, diverse, and all to the point.

I'd echo one of the participants in asking, "Does what you learn on campus transfer to real life?" The two questions are parallel. Their common answer, "Learning often transfers less than students and faculty assume. 'What is learned in the classroom stays in the classroom (if it stays at all.)'

I especially like some of the educational lessons that are bundled under the heading, "teaching for understanding." For example, if you learn about something in context A and are only tested on that knowledge or skill in Context A, you're not real likely to be able to apply what you learned, months or years later, to context B. You're more likely to be able to apply what you've learned in some unfamiliar context later on if you were taught about the idea in more than one context, and then tested on your ability to apply it in familiar and unfamiliar contexts.

In short, students benefit when they're given practice and feedback as they 'transfer' learning from one sphere to another. The same is almost certainly true of learning in Second Life. We may look at a student designing jewelry in Second Life and hope that the lessons transfer to real life. But if that transfer is an explicit agenda, and if the learning and assessment are based on transfer, transfer is more likely to happen. A virtual world is a different sort of world, but its still a world and what we know about learning in other spheres applies to humans in virtual worlds, too.

PS If your institution is a TLT Group subscriber, you want to take a look at the chapter in the Flashlight Evaluation Handbook on evaluating educational activities in Second Life; it's Section VI.W. It's still primitive, but it's developing, and we even have a little item bank on this topic in Flashlight Online. We'd love to work with a subscriber or two on studies in this arena, and use the work to develop this further.

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