Second Life has been somewhat of a higher ed bust. Yeah, I know that some of you have been using Second Life to hold some classes and teach some things, but you are in the extreme minority. For most of us, our experience in Second Life can be described as:
Step 1: Excitement about the possibilities for immersive learning and collaboration in Second Life.
Step 2: Creating a Second Life account, and finding out that we couldn't really do anything without an apparent investment of 10 billion hours or so of virtual living.
Step 3: Never logging into Second Life again.
There must be a term for a technology where the vast gap between the hype and reality causes us to lose sight of the potential of that technology in the future.
The "trough of disillusionment" in the hype cycle of Second Life should not prevent us from losing sight of the amazing educational potentials of immersive, 3D simulations in education. The necessary technology pieces are not far away. Apple's Siri technology in the iPhone 4S demonstrates the potential for natural language commands as inputs for devices and software. Haptic gloves and augmented reality 3D goggles will place our senses within the interface. Investments from gaming and computer animation will diffuse into virtual learning environments, bringing down the costs of and ease of creation to non-specialists. Hardware platforms will extend to tablets and smart phones.
In our current flat, and largely text driven, world of online education it is sometimes hard to imagine a different reality. One where we talk rather than type, and where the navigation metaphor shifts from a screen to a geography. But I can guarantee you that someone, somewhere, has a vision for the class and school of the future that looks nothing like the learning management system (LMS) of today. That digital learning world will emerge from the MMO (massively multiplayer online) game world, the gaming world, and the computer animation world.
In 20 or so years (maybe sooner - these things tend to go fast once they tip) we will look back on our current digital education tools as crude, flat, and slow.
How do we take this next step?