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”.

September 21, 2009   8 Comments