My other life: Education in an online 3D virtual world

Helmer (2007, p. 4) describes Second Life (SL) as a sandbox where users create the world and everything in it. SL differs from online games such as World of Warcraft as there are no defined goals or activities for users to carry out. Accurate statistics on current users are difficult to obtain as Linden Labs ceased releasing many usage statistics in 2010, but it is clear from the statistics that are available that usage has been slowly declining since that time (see figure 1; Shepherd, 2013).

Figure 1: Second life concurrency stats

Figure 1: Second life concurrency stats

I found SL clunky and laggy. I struggled with the interface despite previous experience playing World of Warcraft and Minecraft. Linden Labs claims orientation takes four hours; I agree with Harmer (2007, pp. 23-24) that it takes far longer. For educational projects to succeed, benefit to users needs to be obvious and stretched over a period of time.

The flexibility of SL allows interesting and varied learning experiences. SL allows a wide range of media (presentations, video, interactive whiteboards); a learning environment is limited by the designers technical ability, imagination and time. It is obvious how this could be useful for distance education. Figure 2 shows my SL avatar in the CSU-SIS Learning Centre. The advantages to SL are it’s downfall, the openness of SL makes it vulnerable to hackers and scammers which can lead to loss of service and property in the game.

Figure 2: LibraryMel at the CSU Information Centre

Figure 2: LibraryMel at the CSU Information Centre

While in SL I visited the Rockcliffe University Library & Reference Center which provides free online books and links to download media. The Rockcliffe library has an automated library assistant at the entrance to provide information and direction to visitors (see figure 3).

Figure 3: Rockcliffe University Library Assistant

Figure 3: Rockcliffe University Library Assistant

I also visited the California State University, Fullerton campus in SL (see figure 4). Lester and King (2009) published an article analysing teaching a course (subject) in SL, finding that the educational results of face to face and SL teaching were very similar.

Figure 4: California State University, Fullerton Campus

Figure 4: California State University, Fullerton Campus

SL provides huge potential for educators, and it has attracted many libraries and educational providers over the last decade. Particularly for distance education, language instruction, and providing media rich content. These benefits are not unique to SL, they are present in any online virtual world that allows rich media. Hill and Meister (2013) claim SL has been used as a stepping stone for educators to move into teaching in immersive worlds, and that the cost and technical problems present in SL make “gridhopping” desirable and worthwhile.


Helmer, J., & Learning Light (2007). Second Life and virtual worlds. Available from

Hill, V., & Meister, M. (2013). Virtual worlds and libraries: Gridhopping to new worlds. College & Research Libraries News, 74(1), 43-47. Available from

Lester, P. M., & King, C. M. (2009). Analog vs. digital instruction and learning: Teaching within first and Second Life environments. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14(3), 457–483. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01449.x

Shepherd, T. (2013). Mean daily concurrency. In Second Life Grid Survey. Retrieved from

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2 Responses to My other life: Education in an online 3D virtual world

  1. melchivers says:

    I don’t want to add to the word-count of my post so I will add a comment on my experiences visiting second-life with people. I attended a training session run by Carole Gerts
    INF506 Subject Coordinator, which helped me a lot in getting used to the interface. It made me realise that there are many ways to navigate through Second Life, Carol explained how to do many of the things I had worked out how to do myself in a different way.
    I have also looked at some of the projects that are going on in Second Life. Two examples just at Monash University have an Island called Pharmatopia where pharmacy students can simulate creating drugs on virtual machines that in meat space (how great is that term for “real life”?!) are prohibitively expensive and students get little time to practice (
    Another interesting thing that Monash are doing is role-playing for Social Work students, which I think is a really fantastic idea as it would change the dynamics of face-to-face role-playing considerably.
    These experiences have not changed my overall judgement of Second Life, but they have made me feel slightly more favorable towards it.

  2. Pingback: INF506 Assignment 3 | Mel's Ponderings

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