Chapter 3 Summary

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Learning in 3D
we add context to content
just like being there.

Chapter 3 sketches examples of what learning in 3d may look like as compared to the 2d experience, explores some differentiators in Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs), and conclude with 7 sensibilities of VIEs.

Unfamiliar environments

The chapter opens describing a virtual environment where a number of teams are competing to be the first to cross the water to a distant island. Most teams started building a bridge, but as one team is about to bridge the last few meters, they find another team already on the island… having gotten there by flying, since the virtual environment lacks gravity. The instructor points out to the other protesting teams that the point of the exercise is to ensure that each team explored all options in an unfamiliar environment before taking familiar action, and to encourage thinking outside the box.


Within the concept of the VIE, the authors distinguish between Virtual Social Worlds (VSW) and Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG *). They share some aspects, namely:

  • they both use avatars;
  • are persistent;
  • offer reputational capital;
  • have an immersive environment;
  • are interactive;
  • allow real-time communication;
  • have digital assets for players to own.

What sets VSWs and MMORPGs apart is:

  • Open world, “sandbox” environment vs. a world bound by narrative;
  • Focus on socialisation and creation vs. focus on achieving goals;
  • User-created content vs. content provided by the game;

Aspects of both VSWs and MMORPGs can be combined to form an immersive and and engaging 3D learning experience (3DLE). The VIE is the technology; the 3DLE is the experience that is designed within the VIE to foster learning.

*) Note: these days many people prefer the term MMO, which is less of a mouthful, and in most modern MMOs the role-playing part and the narrative of the quests play second fiddle to the gameplay itself. Also see the end of this summary for an alternative translation.

2D vs 3D

The next part of the chapter compares the learning experience in a 2D and 3D scenario, both having to do with the launch of a new product, a drill:

The 2D experience describes Jane connecting to a typical shared collaboration tool, having a whiteboard, chat window, and a Powerpoint presentation as well as voice comms. Jane flips through the 40 page presentation and half-listens to the presenter while she quickly checks her email and does some other work.  The presentation ends with a slide of the drill with some arrows pointing at new features, followed by a poll.  While Jane doesn’t fully understand everything in the presentation, she clicks “Completely understand” as she doesn’t want to waste other people’s time with further questions.  The class then breaks up into groups to each create a 1-slide presentation on how they would place the drill in a specialty store. After discussing and commenting on each of the presentations, the instructor closes out.

The 3D environment describes Jack logging into the corporate VIE, and immediate responds to a teleport request from one of his colleagues.  He arrives at an area where 4 teams are already busy examining virtual models of the new drill, trying to find new features. The first team to identify 10 new features earns 20000 “learning bucks” (which are applied towards winning a trip to Hawaii). Some people have pulled up product web pages, others are comparing the new drill to virtual models of the previous version. Jack notices there is new email but he ignores it, focused on the contest. He also notices a team mate “snoozing” and quickly sends him an IM; the team member apparently had to drop out of the VIE to deal with his boss.

After Jack’s team is declared victor, everyone is shrunk to ant-size and teleported around the now giant drill to review the top 20 new features. The teams then run around the drill to pick up flags that point out the new features that have not yet been covered.

The facilitator then shows one of the new drills in a virtual display stand. One student asks how the drill might be placed on a regular shop shelf, and the group teleports to a small virtual hardware store, where the instructor shows the new drill in this context. The group does the same at a virtual trade show booth. Jack then volunteers for a little role-play session, where he tries to sell the new model drill to the facilitator at a virtual construction site.

The group finally teleports back to the virtual learning center, where each team will compete to create the most compelling sales display that highlights the most important benefits of the new model drill. After 20 minutes are up, a group of product managers teleports in, who give feedback on each of the display stands. Jack’s team wins this challenge, and the instructor closes out, after which Jack saves the entire VIE session for later review.

From Interactivity to Engagement.

The example of Jack and Jane illustrate how the Immersive Internet impacts online learning, an impact that is expected to grow. Futurist William Halal is quoted as predicting that by 2015 virtual worlds will dominate the internet. The challenge lies in understanding what the Immersive Internet will do to knowledge transfer, work transactions and existing learning paradigms.

One key aspect of the 3DLE is that it creates a sense of “being there” instead of just looking at the same screen. Such visual and mental cues make recall and application of the learning that occurs more effective. (See the end of the summary for my own experience). The 3DLE offers rich interaction around a task, through activities designed to synthesize conceptual learning through immersive and interactive activity, which also stimulates informal peer-to-peer learning at the same time. In contrast, Jane’s learning experience suffers, not from a lack of interactive tools, but from this lack of immersion in the activity itself.

A 3DLE has at its core the notion that Interactivity and Immersion achieve a level of Engagement that creates the motivation to learn as a by-product of engaging in an activity, or: I * I = E.   Interaction in a 3DLE is not disembodied and transactional; it is embodied and experiential.   Learning in a 3DLE is closer to an apprenticeship in which one learns by doing, together with others.

The 7 sensibilities of the VIE

The authors have identified 7 sensibilities that apply to VIEs:

  1. The sense of self: The avatar becomes an extension of oneself.  People tend to act and behave in a VIE as they would in the real world, and others recognise that behaviour.
  2. The death of distance: Connecting to a virtual world is instant and requires no travel or paperwork.
  3. The power of Presence: being virtually there is almost as good as being physically there.
  4. The sense of Space and Scale: these are flexible; travel to outer space or travel inside a blood vessel becomes possible.
  5. The capability to Co-create: in a VIE, participants can co-create the actual object instead of just a Powerpoint about that object.
  6. The pervasiveness of Practice: In the 3DLE people learn by doing, by completing a number of tasks by trial and error.
  7. The enrichment of Experience: Done right, 3DLEs create compelling and memorable experiences.

When woven together, these sensibilities create a 3DLE that sets itself apart from 2D learning experiences as follows:

  • More focused presence: it is much harder to multitask in a 3DLE.
  • More authentic learning contexts: in a 3DLE, the learning context is very close to the actual performance environment.
  • Congruent contextual cues facilitate recall: immersion into a 3DLE helps the learner recall the lessons later.
  • Embedded peer-to-peer learning: collaboration emerges naturally in a 3DLE, leading to peer-to-peer learning.

Implications for educators

In a 3D generative learnign environment, the role of the traditional training function will become increasingly marginalised.  New methods and training techniques will have to be devised for organisations to be succesful.  This requires that the learning function adopt new learning paradigms.  Learning professionals should lead the Immersive internet change.



An alternative translation of the MMORPG acronym is: Many Men Online Role-Play Girls, referring to the increasing tendency for players to “roll” avatars of the other gender. 10 years ago, gender switching was rarely done and was considered a little odd. Today, the book quotes 17% of people online switching gender, which may well be right in worlds like Second Life where people have a single virtual identity. In games where one person will likely play multiple avatars, the percentage is much higher.  The question is: what does this mean for the Sense of Self online? 

As far as “being there”, or the Sense of Self goes… I have held numerous meetings in 3D games, and this does actually come pretty close to being there physically.  Much better in fact than teleconferencing or even videoconferencing.  However, it does take time to achieve this!  One needs to be comfortable controlling one’s avatar first, and be comfortable with the notion of being represented by an avatar.  Only then, the immersion follows.  You’ll probably note that younger generations pick this up immediately, whereas older people may have more trouble.  I write “may” because our experience in Second Life showed that this is a statistical tendency and by no means a hard and fast rule.


The book seems to present learning in 3D as the driver for change in the way we learn.  To what extend do you think this holds true?  Is 3D the driver, or is it part of a larger shift of emphasis from formal to informal learning?

What are the implications for educators?  The chapter’s conclusion was rather thin on the subject although it did mention that learning professionals should lead the immersive internet.  Do you think we should lead in this, or follow, and why?

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