Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The intersection of adult learning principles and virtual worlds

I just posted the following brainstorm in ThinkBalm's Innovation Community. For those of you not a member of that community, I'd love to hear your feedback here! 
With the introduction of any new technology that can be used for learning, often what we know about how adults learn is thrown out the window because the new technology is "cool" and will "increase motivation." Eventually, though, adult learning theory wins.

Here are a list of proven adult learning principles for e-learning, and how they intersect (or don't) with virtual world technology:

Modality principle: audio narration, not on-screen text, should drive instruction
Virtual worlds are typically driven by visuals and supported by audio or instant messages (text chat). Although chat is text on-screen, it is dynamic in a way that mirrors audio, unlike the static text in e-learning modules or PowerPoint presentations. I would argue that virtual worlds adhere to the modality principle of adult learning.

Redundancy principle: on-screen text should key-point the narration, not provide a transcript
This principle again challenges us to consider the meaning of on-screen text. If we compare text chat to audio narration, then virtual worlds provide little other on-screen text, unless a presentation or text pieces are provided in-world. In these cases, to adhere to the redundancy principle, those print pieces should be focused on key points.

Seductive augmentation principle: don't use extraneous, distracting sound or visuals
This may be the biggest challenge of virtual worlds for learning. Part of the opportunity of virtual worlds are the openness of them. This openness can lead to a variety of distractions that can diminish the effectiveness of learning, making this a very difficult principle to execute in a virtual world.

Personalization principle: use a conversational style
If the seductive augmentation principle is the most difficult to manage in a virtual world, personalization is perhaps the easiest to incorporate. Interactions are by their nature personalized in a virtual world. Obstacles to personalization may include chatbots or artificial intelligence attempts that are awkward or demonstrate inaccuracies.

Practice principle: use interactive learning exercises to foster comprehension and anchor in long-term memory
Virtual worlds provide an opportunity for truly interactive learning exercises that allow users to practice what they learn. Just like a typical e-learning experience these exercises or opportunities for practice must be built into the learning. This is not automatically built into virtual worlds, but it is a principle that has much more creative, immersive possibilities in them.

Spacing principle: interactive learning exercises should be distributed throughout a lesson, and ideally spaced out over time
Similar to the practice principle, the spacing principle is more dependent on the design of the learning experience than on the technology. Virtual worlds allow for application of the spacing principle if the learning experience is designed to incorporate spaced activities.

Response contingent feedback principle: write interactive learning exercise answer feedback that is tailored to a learner's specific answer
Virtual worlds are developed around the concept of live interaction, thus response-contingent feedback would be an assumed part of any learning experience in a virtual world environment. Not only can feedback be response contingent, but it can also take the form of live coaching. This is a clear benefit of virtual worlds for learning over other e-learning methodologies.

Analogical learning principle: use analogies or comparisons to increase comprehension
Although analogies could certainly be designed into virtual world learning experiences, the true benefit of virtual worlds is the ability to allow users hands on experience and immersion in the environment or scenarios that they are learning about. One could argue that the entire virtual world is a mirror of the real world learning environment, and thus analogies are not as necessary...or that the entire virtual world is in some ways an analogy.

Mnemonic principle: use mnemonics to encode learning to long-term memory
The mnemonic principle is based on the assumption that there is some information that just needs to be committed to memory, and the use of mnemonics helps link those concepts to other existing concepts already in memory thus helping to more easily remember new concepts. As with several of the other principles listed here, virtual world learning experiences could certainly include mnemonics if incorporated in the learning experience.

From the above analysis, the biggest risk to the success of virtual world training design is seductive augmentation. Instructional designers working in virtual worlds should be thinking about the benefit/distraction ratio when developing virtual world learning experiences in order to minimize the negative effects of distractors.

In the end, it comes down to good instructional design: virtual world technology allows for new possibilities for practice and immersion, but adult learning theory must be applied in order for learning experiences to be effective.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, Koreen!
    Excellent post this about adult learning principles.
    I am a postgraduate student of E-Learning from Greece. I am looking for design principles in order to design and implement a 3d environment in Second Life, suitable for teacher training. Could you suggest me some good bibliography?
    Thank you