Tired of dull old e-learning programmes? Second Life systems could be the answer.
Those of us over the age of 40 will be a tad apprehensive about entering the entirely computer-generated world of Second Life – we scarcely have enough time to do everything we want in our real lives, let alone find time to create computer-generated characters (or, in geek-speak, avatars).
Yet even the most analogue of training professionals might benefit from dipping their toe into the Second Life digital universe, populated by 3D computer-generated avatars that mimic human movement.
Developed by US-based company Linden Labs, Second Life looks and sounds like an enormous computer game, but it is far more than that. And, it is increasingly being taken seriously by major organisations for recruitment, marketing – and training. Their Second Life sites are called, in the jargon, ‘islands’.
As you read this, it is likely that employees from networking technology company Cisco Systems are coming together in the company’s Second Life training amphitheatre to update knowledge on new products.
Other major companies that use Second Life include ABN Amro, BMW, Vodafone, and recruitment consultancy TMP Worldwide, which recently hosted a careers fair on www.tmpw.co.uk.
So while Second Life may sound like an alien world, there are plenty of familiar corporate logos to be found when you land – Royal Bank of Scotland even set up a digital replica of its Gogarburn headquarters in Edinburgh for the aforementioned careers fair.
Learning to fly
Manpower also established its own island earlier this year. It calls it a learning community to explore and exchange ideas on the virtual world of work. Within it, Manpower offers a free training programme for Second Life ‘newbies’ where avatars can learn how to move around, interact, sit down and, crucially, ‘fly’. Free-form flying is one of the most efficient ways to get around in Second Life. Internal training sessions are held for Manpower staff working on the island.
It will also be used to train for the real world, according to Tammy Johns, senior vice-president of workforce strategy at Manpower in the US.
“It is generally agreed that training is one of the applications for Second Life,” she says.
“It enables you to bring a dispersed network of people together in a safe training area. A growing number of universities are using Second Life to allow students to assemble for virtual classes in a variety of settings.”
David Wortley is director of the Serious Games Institute (SGI), set up by Coventry University to look at how ideas, skills and technologies used in entertainment games can transfer to the business world. While the university has a presence in Second Life, he says the SGI’s focus extends beyond that, since it isn’t the only virtual world available to companies – you can even establish your own private online virtual universe.
Exploring the potential
As far as learning and development goes, such virtual environments are a relatively new concept and the challenge is to explore their potential.
“We’ve got to try to understand how we can use these technologies, which are different from other forms of e-learning,” says Wortley.
Although it is early days, there are already some powerful tools tools available for those interested in developing their own virtual world learning programmes. For example, Giunti Labs‘ eXact VLW can create and manage 3D objects and scenes within a collaborative virtual learning world and is compatible with the de facto e-learning framework SCORM.
Fabrizio Cardinali, chief executive of Giunti, whose UK office is in Milton Keynes, says: “It will take some time to judge if virtual worlds are just another fashion in learning technologies or whether they can really boost the wider application of IT to learning.
“However, applications such as eXact VLW are beginning to demonstrate the benefits that open standards and architectures can bring to this area of learning technologies. It certainly appears to offer a quantum leap ahead of the rather staid and predictable contents and experiences that we encountered in first generation e-learning solutions,” he adds.
Teleporting into virtual classrooms as an avatar may be too much for some training professionals to get their heads round. But at least they provide an option for those who say e-learning is flat and uninspiring.
How to get a Second Life
Step one is to get yourself an avatar, which you can do by going to www.secondlife.com and registering. You then choose a first name and pick a surname from a list offered to you. Next you choose your generic avatar type but bear in mind that you can customise this later.
Once you’ve activated the account and downloaded the Second Life software, you can then teleport to Orientation Island, where you can practise moving around, flying and even driving.
We spent some time here but also teleported to Manpower Island (via www.manpower.com) to test its programme for newbies. We were met by a Manpower greeter and could follow a trail through the various functions and found the flying exercises especially useful. Second Life creator Linden Labs has introduced a voice capability, but on our visit instant messaging [instantaneous e-mail] was still the primary method of communication.
It takes a while to hone your movements, but we got over our initial feelings of self-consciousness when we saw other Second Life residents who were far from perfect. In short, once you feel ready, the virtual world is your oyster.