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One of my graduate courses required a group project as part of a block about the Learning Design Studio. Our project developed a Google Site for our work. This is a copy of my contributions to the group effort, reformatted for this website. The project starts here.

Note: I reference this article in my blog; see Using virtual worlds to support learning.

Case study on virtual worlds


Gregory, S., Jacka, L., Hillier, M., and Grant, S. (2015) ‘Using Virtual Worlds in Rural and Regional Educational Institutions’, Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 73-90 [Online].

The authors of this article discuss their experiences teaching in virtual worlds established by four Australian universities.

They all started with Second Life, which opened to the public in 2003, but also have used other platform — to explore capabilities and also because Second Life stopped giving educational discounts. (As of 2013, Second Life is still the most popular virtual world.) The authors were trying to solve the problem of making education available to remote or rural learners. They saw information and communications technology (ICT) and virtual worlds as a solution, but one that requires infrastructure to support heavy bandwidth usage.

Virtual world activities

These are some of the learning activities held in Second Life by one of the universities in this study (Gregory et al., 2015, p. 76)



Context in the case study:

The article looks at 4 universities in Australia. The designers (and staff) at each school wanted to increase their support of remote learners, but each school had slightly different challenges.

University #1: Over three-quarters of the students in this school live in remote areas or overseas.

University #2: This school has a high percentage of students in low socioeconomic brackets, and/or external students, and/or ‘school leavers’.

University #3: This school has campuses and a presence globally — Australia, Malaysia, S. Africa, Italy, India, and China. They also have learners in rural areas who either would not find a supportive network in their physical location, or would have difficulties securing transport to classes.

University #4: This school has many students who live in areas with patchy or no Internet access. The school also has a very limited budget, limited IT support, limited professional development for its teachers, and a variety of old computer hardware. So, they needed a solution that is cheap, easy, works without Internet, and is cross-platform.

Comparison with our project:

In common with our project:

Unlike our project:


Tasks (goals, measures of success) in the case study:

Although they must have had them, the article did not mention preset measures of success or who at each university set the goals and criteria.

University #1: Create a virtual world that supports learning, and also supports an Education class in teaching about this mode.

University #2: Create a replica of their physical campus, using existing objects, communities, and resources.

University #3: Create a virtual world that supports context-based learning, and (later) that provides opportunities to work with professors around the world, and (also later) that serves as a platform for remote students who can never attend real classrooms.

University #4: Offer the experience of a virtual world without Internet connectivity, a common set of software, modern hardware, or budget.

Comparison with our project:

In common with our project:

Unlike our project:


The actual steps taken by the designers to meet their were not defined in the article, and surely differed among the universities. However, from the information that was included, one can extrapolate that the steps were roughly as follows:

  1. Receive permission, funding, etc.
  2. Review virtual world platforms (Second Life being only one such platform).
  3. Review availability and cost of existing resources within platform.
  4. Make connections with existing communities in virtual world, if any.
  5. Identify a small number of courses to be involved in virtual world (either moving the entire class to the virtual world, or moving only some learning activities).
  6. Push or pull students to participate, either by making it mandatory or attractive.
  7. Address additional problems as they arise.
  8. Add more courses after reaching a stable point with the first ones.

There were several problems or unexpected events.

University #1:

University #2:

University #4:


Three of the universities met their original goals and grew beyond those goals. The fourth — the university on the other side of the digital divide — has not met its goals and is still looking for solutions.


It seems that some of the keys to success were:

  • Have a sponsorship plan. Identify a champion who can promote the work effectively and over the life of the project. Identify similar groups who have gone before you, and make use of their work efforts and lessons learned when possible.
  • Plans can be big and long-term, but implementation should start small with periods for learning and adjusting before moving to bigger goals.
  • Have a very clearly defined challenge, much moreso than “reach remote learners”. This is needed when you define your initial, small scope; when you want to move to bigger goals; and/or when the project is crumbling.

Next: Learners First pattern