Magazine article Talent Development

Designing Virtual Immersive Environments

Magazine article Talent Development

Designing Virtual Immersive Environments

Article excerpt


The popularity of 3D virtual immersive environments for learning and collaboration continues to increase as more organizations realize the benefits of 3D for learning. The increased use of these environments creates a challenge for learning and development professionals because they must now learn how to design meaningful and effective instruction within 3D worlds. Fortunately, some pioneering work has already been done in virtual worlds by a few brave people who have leveraged these worlds for learning success.

The lessons learned from those early programs have been distilled into a number of design considerations that can help even the most novice virtual immersive environment designer get a handle on creating effective instruction in 3D virtual immersive environments (VIEs).

Take design into consideration

First, when designing instruction in a VIE, it is critical to always remember that you are designing a learning "environment" and not an e-learning module or an instructor-led course. The primary objective of a VIE is to design engaging experiences that logically lead the learner along an optimal course to rapidly assimilate new learning. The key is the design of the experience and environment.

The learning that occurs within a virtual learning world surfaces at the moment when the lack of knowledge or capability of the learner intersects with the need to have that knowledge or capability to overcome a challenge. The learning should be engineered so that teachable moments surface as often as possible.

Those teachable moments are not the same for everyone, but areas covered in the 3D learning environment are encountered, consumed, and applied based on the experience of the learner, not the mandate of the instructor. No two people can be expected to come out with exactly the same experience in a virtual learning world experience. That is precisely the design point for these environments. The experience of the learner within the environment drives the learning and aids in retention and application.

Experience is much more about context than content. In a VIE, content is king, but context is the kingdom. Context renders explicit topics and principles and makes them actionable. The true value of a virtual learning world is not how well it can mimic the classroom but how purposeful the world can be in allowing learners to act and interact toward a common goal, to fail and try again in a different way, and to eventually (but much faster than in real life) achieve the desired learning outcome.

Given this backdrop, there are a number of general design points to keep in mind when creating 3D virtual learning experiences:

* Create the right context.

* Create specific objectives.

* Provide minimal guidelines.

* Encourage collaboration.

* Allow opportunities for demonstrating learning.

* Build in incentives.

Create the right context

In a traditional classroom or in a 2D synchronous learning space such as WebEx or Centra, the context is pre-established. The learners are faced with a slide of content, a shared application, or a whiteboard on which they can collaborate. There is little variation from session to session in terms of context. The content may change but the environment is static--a digital interpretation of the physical classroom.

In a VIE, the entire context of the learning can change many times within one session. For example, a salesperson learning about a soon-to-be-released product may arrive in a space designed to teach him about that product with a 3D model of the product he can walk around in, but within a few minutes, the learner could be transported to an actual worksite where that product is used on the job. Learners could then be whisked to a retail store to observe how the product is displayed in-store.

The responsibility for creating those environments and anticipating the needs of the facilitator within a virtual learning environment is the job of the 3D learning environment designers. …

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