A Journey through the Design of a Virtual Learning Environment: In This Promising Technology, Course Designers Set the Stage Much like a Theatrical Production. Learning Events Become the Story That Unfolds and Avatar-Actors Carry out Tasks in Support of a Goal

By Porter, Elizabeth; Weisenford, Janet et al. | The Public Manager, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

A Journey through the Design of a Virtual Learning Environment: In This Promising Technology, Course Designers Set the Stage Much like a Theatrical Production. Learning Events Become the Story That Unfolds and Avatar-Actors Carry out Tasks in Support of a Goal


Porter, Elizabeth, Weisenford, Janet, Smith, Robert, The Public Manager


Virtual worlds are increasingly heralded as a low-cost, simulated environment that can be used for a variety of purposes, including training. In his paper on virtual reality as an educational tool presented at the American Society for Engineering Education 1995 Annual Conference, John T. Bell defines a virtual world as "a synchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Many companies and organizations have emerged over the past few years to support this ubiquitous technology for training, including the Federal Virtual World Consortium at the government level and multiple companies offering platforms and tools to build virtual worlds. In fact, a 2011 GigaOM survey of more than 550 uses of virtual worlds estimates that training is expected to constitute 42 percent of the virtual activities conducted "in world," within the virtual environment.

Almost two years ago, we began to examine the use of virtual worlds as a possible delivery system to address the training challenges confronted by the Veteran Health Administration's VHA Disaster Emergency Medical Personnel System DEMPS. These training challenges include how to train geographically dispersed individuals who must ultimately function as a team, how to minimize the time away from job duties yet accomplish the training needed for performance, and how to prepare and orient individuals to a new environment where they will need to perform their duties with little or no orientation to the setting and be able to perform well immediately. After conducting a feasibility study using the competencies and training requirements to evaluate multiple virtual world VW platforms, we determined that the VW did offer a venue for addressing the challenges. Thus, we endeavored to design training for delivery via a VW platform.

Other organizations embarking on a similar path may find that VWs offer a cost-effective platform for delivering training. Thus we share our approach and what we learned as we applied the PADDIE model (ADDIE, the instructional design model based on analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation, with a "P" for planning) to design for this new tool.

Planning Research

In planning for training in the VW, we sought to learn what others were doing. We explored VW applications online, reviewed relevant literature, and attended conferences to gather lessons learned from those conducting VW research, those using a VW environment, and vendors. Most importantly, it provided us with visual examples of VW applications. We learned that there was little skill-based training in VW; VWs have been used primarily for collaboration and exploration. Ultimately, what we found from the review of the literature is that the training community is at the exploratory stage with this promising technology, with limited documentation of specific lessons learned. Table 1 highlights findings from the literature, organized around the PADDIE model.

Table 1. Literature Findings

Phase           Finding

Planning        Successful projects devote the necessary attention
                and emphasis to the planning stage.
                Include all stakeholders early on--from information
                technology experts to instructional designers to
                subject matter experts and the organization's
                leaders.
                Stakeholders will provide insight on germane issues
                in their functional areas that may impact the
                project.
                Early inclusion will also facilitate critical
                buy-in and ownership of the project, thus
                increasing the likelihood of the project's
                success.

Analysis        Determine the level of realism needed to support
                the learning objectives.
                Identify the type of orientation and practice
                needed by learners prior to launching an in world
                session. 

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A Journey through the Design of a Virtual Learning Environment: In This Promising Technology, Course Designers Set the Stage Much like a Theatrical Production. Learning Events Become the Story That Unfolds and Avatar-Actors Carry out Tasks in Support of a Goal
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