Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Action Learning with Second Life-A Pilot Study

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Action Learning with Second Life-A Pilot Study

Article excerpt


An often-heard criticism of today's business schools is the high level of theoretical knowledge taught, and the possible corresponding lack of real world value (Pal, 2007). Even when students undergo a 'business game' experience, the game is often restricted to manipulating quantitative parameters (e.g., level of advertising spending) in a highly abstracted simulation environment (cf. Faria, 2001). In response, some business schools have moved to providing their MBA students with innovative action learning activities, such as consultancy projects at MIT, Yale, or Duke (Bisoux, 2006). For students in undergraduate programs, the opportunities to take on real world challenges are less plentiful as few companies are eager to let inexperienced students tackle their real business problems (cf. Gardiner, 2008).

Virtual worlds offer a unique opportunity to fill this void, providing an action learning environment where students can enact real business ideas and generate considerable value, in an environment where failure has relatively few and inexpensive consequences. In light of these insights we present the outcome of an action learning assignment for management information systems students, where participants built businesses within Second Life. The assignment, completed in late 2008, extended a similar exercise in 2007, yet raised the number of students and enhanced the theoretical framework. From our prior work (Wagner, 2008), we knew that students would be able to complete their assignments to build on-line, revenue generating businesses with modest financial investments (provided by the instructors / researchers). From past student reports, we also observed evidence of multiple forms of learning, about business, systems development, and IT management. Hence the focus of this study was to determine whether students, after completing the exercise, would report action learning and would report a learning experience whose value justified the considerable effort involved.

Answering these two questions is the purpose of this article. To do so, the article is organized as follows. The background of action learning, virtual worlds, and learning in virtual worlds will be provided in the next section, then, followed by the description of the application of action learning approach in designing one group assignment tasked for building an online store in Second Life. Our research framework, research methodology will then be described, and followed by the discussion of the findings. Finally, conclusions will be drawn.


2.1 Action Learning

Teacher-centered approaches have existed in university curricula for hundreds of years: academics lecture and students gain the delivered knowledge through attending lectures, completing exercises, and preparing for exams, with more enlightened approaches also employing case studies, or experiential learning activities (McGill and Beaty, 1992). Having been used for centuries, teacher-centered type classroom teaching techniques have also been criticized for considerable time (Dewey, 1938). For example, this type of teaching has been attacked for seldom relating to actual, realtime business predicaments directly, and for not testing the always unpredictable consequences of managers' actions. Traditional classroom teaching deals with past solutions to past problems. For example, case studies often demonstrate to students one of the "best practices" to solve a particular problem at the time the case situation occurred (Corey, 1976). However, in the dynamic world of business, problems are always changing. Furthermore, learning and working should not be separated, but intertwined, because learning aims at changing attitude and behavior, and the changes can and should be gauged in work practice. Students must be able to cope, in real life, with problems which they may not have encountered or even thought of before. …

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