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So, really, who is using Second Life for eLearning? April 2, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
Tags: , , , ,

Is it a fad? Was it a fad? I finally made my way into Second Life this week. I know, I’m a (really) late adopter, but at least I finally made it in. I went in with a group of peers, and we were evaluating Second Life’s potential for holding training events. I wasn’t impressed. Sure, the graphics are decent, and you can do tons of things in the environment, but we ran into several roadblocks that hindered the experience. Here were the issues I experienced, and I received similar feedback from a few other people:

Weird names
Why do I have to take on some goofy alias/username in Second Life? It makes formal meetings and training sessions really difficult because everybody has to reintroduce themselves. I equate this to wearing a mask to a real live meeting; it hinders communication incredibly. (And how are you supposed to take somebody seriously when they’re named Flippy McButterbean?)

Down for maintenance
Within the first few minutes of our event, we found out that several users could not get in to Second Life; they were getting a message that Second Life was down for maintenance and it wouldn’t let them in. How can you plan on having events with large groups of people, and then have that happen? That’s a show-stopper.

Distractions, distractions
Throughout the meeting, people were changing their avatars, using gestures, and moving around. Sure, some of this was the newness of Second Life, but I wonder, do audiences eventually learn to sit still? Or does the environment provide too many distractions and too much fun?

Where are we meeting?
Even though a Second Life meeting URL was sent out to everybody prior to the meeting, people still ran into issues getting to the right location. Some people got kicked out and thrown into the ocean. Sure, that’s cute from a gaming perspective, but it loses its charm quickly when you’re trying to get in to a meeting and it keeps throwing you out.

Somehow, when I logged into Second Life for the first time, my tutorial/panel screens started showing up in Japanese. I went into the preferences and set English as my default language, but the panels persisted in Japanese. So I probably missed some important information from the very start. I contacted Linden Labs for assistance, but they wouldn’t help me unless I paid for support. It was a really bad support experience and I never got an answer. Eventually, the panels stopped showing up. Disappointing.

But I could be wrong…

I admit that I haven’t spent much time in Second Life (just a few hours), so please chime in if I’m wrong about any of the items above. And let me know if you have other suggestions. I’m not giving up on Second Life, but I didn’t have a good first impression. Hopefully, I’ll get some answers and assistance (without paying for it) that’ll set me on the right path.


Are you using Second Life? How’s it going? Would you recommend it? Or is it just a fad?



1. MSGiro Grosso - April 3, 2008

Spending a few hours in Second Life is like spending a few hours with an infant and declaring yourself “World’s Greatest Parent”. The learning curve for virtual worlds is long, because most approach it with the philosophies, methodologies, behaviors and expectations as the real world, which leads to confusion and frustration. I know it’s hard, but you need to throw what you know out the door, because the world you stepped into is not the one you live and breathe in. As I tell all of my clients and students, what’s the point of factoring gravity, weather and aerodynamics when building in a virtual world? You need to assess the world, determine what you can and can’t do and then do it, but I need to stress the importance of assessment because you would have known about the maintenance if you knew where to look prior to logging in. (Note: It’s posted on the client before you connect to Second Life)

I’ve been on discussion panels, taught classes and as recently as last night spoke to MBA students from Babson College (which I’ve been doing for two semesters now) about how they can leverage Second Life as a virtual incubator for budding entrepreneurs.

It’s easy to get past the silly names (They don’t have to be silly. The first name is your choice.) and fall into a comfortable pattern of communication and organization around meetings (I recommend sitting in circular space opposed to rectangular). If you take advantage of the VoIP technology (voice chat) then it gets that much more natural. To avoid changing clothes or jumping up and down you create and pass along a notecard, prior to the meeting, to each attendee explaining to them the meeting decorum and expectations. Never schedule a meeting with first time users. I understand the excitement and need to rush in but you have to make sure everyone is comfortable with the environment first.

I’ve been using Second Life for nearly two years now and I learn something new every time I log-in. I’ve taught students, worked with universities (I’m also part-time faculty at Boston University) and I’ve helped large corporations integrate themselves into the environment. Each scenario requires a different approach, but there is always a solution to the challenge.

Contact me if you have questions. I’m more than happy to help.

2. A fresh perspective from a new user… « SL Review™ - April 3, 2008

[…] So, really, who is using Second Life for eLearning? « eLearning Weekly Blogged with the Flock Browser […]

3. Ari Blackthorne - April 3, 2008

What a refreshing perspective. Thank you for being ‘adult’ about your findings, unlike so many journalist that resort to laughable journalism when proclaiming their ‘expert’ opinion of Second Life after a five-minute visit.

I concur with MSGiro Grosso – it is a learning curve… not only for yourself, but for your meeting guests/students. The novelty will wear-off eventually and then people will take the virtual space more seriously. I have attended many “real world” meeting via Second Life and it is a far better experience and for more meaningful than a simple teleconference.

But my name in Second Life (SL) isn’t ‘Flippy McButterbean’, either. 🙂

Thank you for such a fresh perspective. I think you have brought a few new-user questions that simply haven’t been brought before. Refreshing enough to me, I’ve blogged about your post: http://slreview.wordpress.com

Kind regards, and I am sure you will become more comfortable in-world with time.

“Ari Blackthorne”
(Ron Andrade in Real life)

4. B.J. Schone - April 3, 2008

Good feedback – thanks MSGiro and Ari. Our team has set up an encore Second Life meeting to give it another shot. I’ll take both of your suggestions to heart and we’ll see what happens.

5. Brent Schlenker - April 3, 2008

BJ – I agree with the other commenters. However, outside of the “high geek” community you will not get people coming back to “give it another try”. The tipping point into the mainstream will only come when the user interface is improved. Navigation and content creation needs to be REALLY simple or else average people will walk away.

When I have the time, I really enjoy meetings and other group events in SecondLife. There is a sense of engagement that is very different from firstlife. When all attendees are seasoned secondlife users you can be productive and have fun all at the same time. It ends up being like having an expensive “off-site” meeting minus all the costs.

Good stuff as always, BJ. Keep up the great work.

6. Sam Bachert - April 3, 2008

I think the high learning curve is what will turn most faculty and others using Second Life as a delivery method off. Many times I have students who struggle with using the course/learning management system and will drop because of that – I doubt they would be able to handle Second Life as well.

7. Laura Kratochvil - April 3, 2008

Thanks BJ for your honesty…and frankly I felt the same way when I went into Second Life for the first time (and I did give myself a goofy name..) and even the second time. I got excited when I found a bunch of free stuff, including outfits and then accidently ended up looking like a hooker. Needless to say though, I fit in pretty well.

In my corporate job, we have really struggled on figuring out ways to use Second Life (security issues, etc.). BUT, there are some possibilities I am looking at with a friend of mine from the university. The telemedicine research community has some 3D objects of the human body and would really like to share and use the them within an environment such as Second Life. Seems like there is some real learning potential there…and there are other environments like Croquet, an open source system that is focussing on making the developed of objects much easier, etc. It will get easier for newbies and “less tech” minded folks and when it does, there is going to be some real excitement there.

8. Tracy Hamilton - April 4, 2008

I made a quick post a little while ago myself after finally trying out Second Life. I had needed a computer upgrade to even start. I’m one of those people that get’s motion sick often playing PS3 games that move around alot, and after a short bit of time with the window scrolling all around I had to step out of SL and rest my brain.

I’ll agree there must be a huge learning curve to the whole thing, but my first experience has not had me running back in yet to try once more.

9. Erik L. - April 7, 2008

I’ve not visited Second Life yet. I will, sometime, maybe…and perhaps that will spawn the epiphany as to what makes it a valuable eLearning environment. For now, I’m stumped. I foresaw half the problems you listed (names, distractions) and am even more skeptical with the additional ones you post.

Surely you’re aware of Karl Kapp’s exploration of this type of approach. I need to read more of his stuff but, still, on the face – I’m completely unconvinced.

I just don’t see what makes it valuable over a standard web conference. If needed, I can share my desktop, use a whiteboard, call up applications to illustrate what I need to show…

Maybe as an environment where a group of distant folks can get together and build a car, or model a machine, or practice a repair…I could see that. But does 2nd Life offer that detail?
I just don’t see it at this point.
Now manipulative holograms…that will be cool! 😉

10. Yesha Sivan - April 8, 2008

A good summary of the problems. Some of them will need to be fixed so system like second life can actually work. Some hints:
– Re the name: a small utility allow you to hide the nick and get your own name. This solves one problem.
– Re down system — Having 2 different islands in different parts of the grid solves — some times — the down time.
– Distractions — how many ppl in Real training are looking at the smart phones? — after a while this works. And one should be clear about not goofing around while learning.

Personally I think that for the first time we have really something new in learning … that probably has some good potential. Lets remember that such things used to cost many K$ and now they are almost free.

11. craig wiggins - April 9, 2008

Excellent summary of what’s wrong with Second Life.
I won’t rehash what other intelligent people have said here, but I will say that what we want out of the virtual-world-collaborative-space idea is not what Second Life can deliver just yet. In fact, i think spaces like Worlds of Warcraft provide a better view as to how collaborative online interaction (and, by extension, learning) might be.

12. Flippy - April 14, 2008

Philip McButterbean has a far more serious ring to it.

13. David Anderson - April 21, 2008

BJ, As someone who’s been in world nearly 3 years and created multiple sims for my company, I’d say the one compelling reason SL is so appealing is that anyone can create a working prototype around what they think a virtual learning environment could be.

Yes, everything you mentioned above is accurate, but for me not to have to pay a vendor to experiment with virtual spaces is a huge benefit for SL.

We aren’t using it (yet) as a formal training environment but at least as a learning design team we’re able to get together and communicate inworld what and how we would like it to work. Just that type of shared understanding is enough.

(Oque Augustus)

14. A fresh perspective from a new user… « CommonSensible - April 23, 2008

[…] So, really, who is using Second Life for eLearning? « eLearning Weekly Blogged with the Flock Browser […]

15. emma trenier - November 27, 2008


I’m a learning consultant, not from a technical background at all, but have recently found myslef taking on the development of an elearning program (i work with a team of Developers).

I have been thinking about the possibilities of using Second life to create simulations to be used in an elearning program, i.e., at the end of a module providing a link to a room within second life where trainees can go and interact with a controlled envirobnment in order to practice their skills.

I am thinking that for this to work the environment would need to be controlled and there would need to be a password to enter the room and only one trainee could enter at once!

I’d appreciate the thoughts of anyone who has tried this or who has pursued teh same train of thought!



16. Jack Sceptic - October 28, 2011

…generally…what is the point? What are the benefits that make overcoming the learning curve even worthwhile? For who exactly? Students benefiting of a hovering 3D model, YES, students that could do with a simple lecture about organizational culture or anything about the humanistic sciences…hardly. It would be nice to know has 2nd life now been proved as a fad?

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