Second Life Cubed

Second Life (SL),  owned by Linden Lab, is an online 3D world created and maintained by its users (residents).  Click here for a short video. Although not originally intended to be, the Second Life platform is emerging as a learning technology.

Face 1 – Market Focus

The SL platform offers opportunities to all three market sectors on the cube. Higher education institutes like colleges and universities have raced to establish themselves on the SL grid to offer distance/blended course offerings and to create virtual learning spaces. The corporate world serves as another market because companies, both private and government, can establish a presence in SL and use the platform for training and development. To a lesser extent, the K-12 sector represents another market focus. Although the potential is there for profit from the K-12 markets, growth has been slower due to several restrictions and barriers.

Face 2 – Types of Offerings

As a learning technology, SL offers infrastructure as a mechanism for providing online learning opportunities. Although general membership and participation in SL is free, those wanting to create learning opportunities must purchase land and pay other service fees.  Content and subject matter is the responsibility of the users/clients. Varying levels of technical support only is offered by SL to its paying customers.

Face 3 – Who is the Buyer?

Typically, SL as a learning technology is purchased by corporations, school districts, and higher education institutes. According to the cube, I suppose it is either “learning bought for learner” or “learning bought centrally” depending on how the purchaser intends the technology will be used and whether the use of SL is imposed on learners and institutions. Interestingly, there is an opportunity for revenue from individual learners once immersed in the learning technology because SL has its own currency system and market that entices users to make purchases, sometimes costing real world funds.

Face 4 – Global Markets

The SL platform is best suited for regions with excellent Internet infrastructure. Regions where Internet and bandwidth is limited or restricted will experience far too many problems using SL as learning technology. In fact, broadband Internet and above average computer hardware are minimum recommendations for using SL. Regarding the issue of language, the SL platform is available in English, French, German, and Chinese. This could be viewed as a restriction, however, because SL is created and maintained by its users creative ways to translate the interface have been used including an in-world translator.

Face 5 – Development of the Market

I’m hoping this face of the cube allows for some blurring of the boundaries because I’m not exactly sure where SL as a learning technology fits in regarding development of the market. As previously stated, poor Internet infrastructure, potential language barriers and poverty creates unfavourable market conditions for selling SL as a learning technology in some regions. It simply is not a good fit in some countries. However, generally speaking, the global market freely imports  and exports learning technologies. Potential buyers are free to consider using SL. While SL does face a small number of competitors in the virtual world market, its popularity gives it a slight edge.

Face 6 – Learning Technology Competing with Other Forms of Learning

SL is a learning technology that “works with a well developed learning system”. SL is likely going to be used to enhance teaching and learning by those who have chosen to explore the benefits of the engaging environment of 3D virtual worlds. In some cases, however, I could see that the use of SL as a learning technology could be imposed on a system as a cost and time saving means of delivering instruction and training. Corporations, for example, might make it mandatory for employees to enroll in professional development delivered in SL as opposed to the more traditional means of expensive face to face training sessions and conferences. In this case, drawing from the cube, the technology is “imposed and competes with existing learning systems”.


1 davidp { 09.21.09 at 9:13 pm }

Nice use of the cube to analyze SL, Erik.

Gotta wonder though whether the pain-for-gain threshold in this environment would make it appealing at all in developing world scenarios where the bare necessities required for technology-enabled education may trump the innovation, despite its potential.

2 Erik Van Dusen { 09.22.09 at 12:03 pm }

So true, David. In fact even those lucky enough to have state of the art technology and Internet infrastructure may find that SL, as a learning technology, is more trouble than it’s worth. I have been teaching social studies in Teen Second Life for several years now and know first hand the amount of hurdles that have to be jumped in order for learners to gain from the experience.

If anyone is interested, here is a link to some information about a grade eight project we run in Teen Second Life:

3 Iris Chan { 09.22.09 at 3:10 pm }

The analysis really helped me to approach SL. I have heard a lot about it, but I have never really had a chance to see it applied in terms of an educational context.

It is definitely a less traditional approach on training.

4 Ammar Al-Attiyat { 09.24.09 at 3:43 pm }

Very well presented Erik, thank you.

Last year we did a prototype in our company with SL, it was kind of show case that we wanted to present for our customer from Higher Education in the Middle East region.

The feedback we got was mainly; “Wow .. super .. great technology .. but ..sorry, we’re not ready yet !!” .. it was as you and Dave mentioned; technology infrastructure readiness and another good reason was the culture in some places was not ready to accept such a style of learning.

5 Tony D { 09.25.09 at 12:36 pm }

Does anyone see the societal implications of what I think SL is all about (this was my introduction to it when I read your posting Eric)? As a platform for training/educational tech it sounds great but what about all this virtual world stuff? It seemed to me that SL has the opportunity to become a society within a our non-virtual world. Where people control a virtual personality, property and socialize. Will there eventually be a SL currency as things become more valuable in the SL world? I am picturing people living at their computer in the future controlling their virtual persona and having the realities of the real world become a bother. Any thoughts?

6 Barrie Carter { 09.27.09 at 7:06 pm }

Hello Erik:

I briefly viewed the work students have done in SL; the work is impressive.

I am also intrigued by the number of MAC laptops in a single classroom.

I have heard about SL from the news: addictive, destroys ‘real world’ relationships, creates ‘virtual’ relationships, connects ‘real people’ in ‘real life’ — all fascinating.

However, there needs to be more research, case studies, and anecdotal reports about its educational value and worth. For me, however, I am impressed by its educational capabilities around simulation.

SL is indeed far more advanced than, say, the following:



7 Tony D { 09.29.09 at 11:40 am }

Interesting links Barrie, these would be great for a school chaplain games that incorporate social justice

8 Cindy Leach { 10.08.09 at 11:25 am }

Hi Barrie,

I would agree with a lot of the feedback that some places are just not ready for this technology. We are just starting to explore and use it here at the hospital with our corporate nursing group to create virtual situations to assist in training. It’s a lot of work, but it is difficult to train on some of these issues otherwise…some things just don’t come up all the time so unless you are there to experience it, you don’t get the opportunity…until virutual reality presented itself.

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