Addressing Virtual World Scepticism (Second Life)
Jan 17, 2009 English as a Second Language (ESL) 3917 Views
Language teachers who have not yet taken it upon themselves to investigate the viability of Second Life as a language learning/teaching platform often approach me with the following concern.
Isn't the learning curve confronted in virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) a bit too steep for "the masses" (in this context language learners and teachers) to fully realize their potential?
There is no doubt that the virtual world of Second Life (SL) is fraught with challenge after challenge, especially for language teachers who are not necessarily considered tech-savvy. That said, I see the so-called "steep learning curve" confronted by users of SL (SLers) as both a blessing and a burden. In my mind, the obstacles confronted often create opportunities for the language learner/teacher to engage in "natural conversation". In other words, real reasons to communicate quickly become apparent. The "small-talk phase" is generally quickly surpassed due to the constantly increasing plethora of activity on the grid. Language learners therefore very soon reach their linguistic limits and either have to focus on improving knowledge of the required language (often English) or accept the repeating sense of frustration that comes with not being able to express oneself properly. Persistent learners AND TEACHERS are the ones who find Second Life particularly useful and rewarding. Reluctance to "adopt" and the tendency for some SLers (language teachers/learners and general users of the platform) to "drop out" are issues which are more difficult to remedy, as the decision to leave or ignore Second Life is often based on a variety of factors, e.g. time constraints, non-gamelike nature of SL, etc.
Second Life is for language learners/teachers who have an insatiable PASSION FOR LEARNING!
To respond to the question more directly, other virtual worlds that are a bit more simplistic in nature than Second Life also exist. THERE (www.There.com) is an example of a virtual world which also has potential for language learning/teaching. However, simplicity also has trade-offs. My own experience in THERE has led me to believe that it is more difficult to get past small-talk and move on to creating chances for "serious learning". I think the platform's simplicity has had the consequence of primarily attracting users who are not seeking a learning experience, who instead wish to just hang out and "shoot the bull".
I don't think virtual worlds (as language learning platforms) are currently for the masses because there are indeed, as many sceptics have indicated, many factors which can lead certain people to either not see their value and/or be reluctant to take on the challenge of exploring them. I suppose this will primarily be overcome by improving platform usability and augmenting teacher/learner internet technology skills and awareness. This takes time...