Virtual learningÂ environmentsÂ can enhance retention through the feelingÂ of presence and interactive learning tasks, according to the recently-published bookÂ Learning in Virtual Worlds,Â which is a compilation of studies about the use ofÂ virtual worldsÂ in education.
“Greater perceptions of presence do contribute positively to the type of learning studied here,” writes author Stephany Wilkes.
The book also offered some advice about designing learning environments.
For example, tasks need to align with learning goals and assessments, according toÂ authors Shailey Minocha and Christopher Hardy.
The environments should also offer interesting challenges to students.
“To maximize success in these situations, the learner must work at a higher cognitive level than required by mere recall,” writes author Helen Farley.
Bots, also known as non-player characters in virtual worlds, can help the environments be more engaging. For example, they can be used to simulate historical figures who chat with the students.
The bots can even be used by the teachers themselves to practice their teaching skills.
One difficulty with using virtual worlds is that some students may have problems using the technology.
“Many users with disabilities will already have assistive technology that they use to effectively operate their own computer, while others will need more accommodations,” wroteÂ authors Robert Todd, Jessica Pater and Paul Baker.
Examples of assistive technologies includeÂ screen magnifiers, low-glare screen filters, voice-to-text software, sound amplifiers, sound-to-textÂ technology, virtual guide dogs, Space NavigatorÂ 3D mouse, and live transcriptionÂ services.
In addition, Second Life groups such asÂ Virtual Helping Hands and Virtual AbilityÂ can provide support thoseÂ with challenges in using virtual worlds.
Although there are many benefits to usingÂ virtual learning environments, there are also some challenges. These includeÂ language barriers,Â time differences, andÂ technical challenges such as bandwidth limitations.
Problems such as these can be solved through mentoring, or grouping students into teams where at least oneÂ student is already familiar with theÂ technology.
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