Young, J. (2010) After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds Chronicle of Higher Education, February 14

This excellent article looks at how educational institutions seem to be moving away from Second Life to create virtual worlds that focus on the specific needs of teaching and learning. Interestingly, Young notes:

It turns out that virtual worlds are at their best when they look nothing like a traditional campus. Professors are finding that they can stage medical simulations, guide students through the inside of cell structures, or pre­sent other imaginative teaching exercises that cannot be done in a physical classroom. But for that, they need more control than Second Life gives them.

The article suggests that there is still a long way to go before virtual worlds have the tools and functionality needed for education. Ominously, it even raises the question whether:

‘the very notion of virtual worlds is flawed. Maybe 3-D online environments are just one of those technologies that sound cool but never fully materialize, like personal jetpacks.’

Early days yet though – but definitely bleeding edge rather than leading edge. This article is well worth reading in its entirety at


  1. Not an excellent article at all. The Chronicle should be ashamed for publishing something that was badly researched and factually incorrect. For a real look at what’s going on in Virtual Worlds and education, check out the upcoming Virtual Worlds Best Practice Conference – where you can meet educators who are ACTUALLY WORKING in a virtual world – as opposed to being ill-informed tourists.

    And um – what is an authentic educational virtual world? One owned by a university rather than a commercial entity?

  2. Actually it’s a very uninformed article. Not sure what you are basing your judgement on, but even the NMC study mentioned in the article actually shows the opposite – interest in other virtual worlds is minimal by comparison, and the number of creative projects and collaborations in Second Life is still growing. Check out the comments on the article to get some perspective. Even the Department of Agriculture put out an RFP that mentions Second Life, and the Department of Energy has a new sim. Also see the articles by a former skeptic at

  3. In response to Frustrated Reader and Liz, I thought it was an ‘excellent’ article because it focused on the need to move virtual worlds from what are still a very limited set of applications into the mainstream of education.

    At the moment, developing virtual worlds requires more time and specialised programming knowledge than most instructors have time for. The article also discussed what doesn’t work well in virtual worlds, and that is trying to replicate a physical classroom.

    The problem is not the concept of virtual worlds, but imagining what they are possible of doing in educational terms, and then building easy-to-use tools that enable virtual worlds to be easily integrated into a wider educational experience.

    I recognise that some valuable work is being done to explore the potential of virtual worlds for education, but too often virtual world applications seem self-indulgent in that they satisfy the needs of programmers rather than learners.

    What do I mean by an authentic educational virtual world? One that focuses on learning outcomes that can be applied not only in virtual space but also in the physical world. There is no need for this to be authenticated institutionally, but learning is the name of the game.

    Yes, I do think that virtual worlds have tremendous potential, and yes, some good work is going on, but it needs to come out of the fringe and into the mainstream, and I don’t see that happening yet – which is why I liked the article.

  4. For some reason some of the in-the-know folks WANT Second Life to fail, but in opposition to the position put forth in the article you describe as “excellent,” Education is moving INTO SL in a big way. Corporations moved into SL early to make money, and left disappointed—but now educators, government and other organizations see SL’s potential and are making SL’s future brighter than ever. That article is ill-informed, as evidenced by the comments submitted by its readers.


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