Real Barriers to Virtual World Use in Education

Each time that I attend a professional meeting in a virtual world the question of general adoption of virtual worlds in education always comes up.  Attendees at these events are the early adopters and they struggle with what is so obvious to them.  The barriers are inter-related and will require time, money and effort to overcome.

Barrier Possible Solution
Cost is often cited as a barrier. Linden Lab eliminated educational discounts on Second Life.  Grids on OpenSim are significantly cheaper but do not contain the assets of SL and other more developed worlds, developing these would take time and money.  Cost is a factor in multiple barriers listed. Organizations may host their own virtual worlds, reducing some cost.  OpenSim and self-hosted grids are typically limited in content but advocates contend that much of the learning lies in the development of this content. There is a growing availability of free and shared content for use in virtual worlds.
Access ( Firewall issues) are more commonly an issue with K-12 than in higher education.  This barrier relates to acceptance and perception of virtual Worlds in general.  Districts have concern about both student safety and the potential financial liability associated with legal action. Control systems are necessary to protect students and prevent inappropriate access, teacher supervision coupled with policies and procedures are effective in keeping children and employees on task in an appropriate manner.  Literature is mounting in favor of adjusting firewalls and access to support student learning in the 21st century.
Technology requirements of Virtual worlds, both infrastructure of Internet access (bandwidth) and device capabilities aren’t up to the requirements needed to run virtual worlds effectively. IT and support personnel may need training to adequately support staff needs. Funding for innovation is essential to effectively prepare our students for their future.  Grants may be the best solution, at this time, to fund the necessary equipment, infrastructure and training.
The Learning Curve in using the interface and acquiring the comfort to be able to manipulate an avatar and eventually more complex tasks inherent in virtual world participation can be a challenge. A model of mentoring colleagues, prior to the expectation of working with students, can provide the confidence and skills.  The use of a virtual world for professional development is a possible evolutionary step to use with students.
Change is difficult. Educators need convincing that a virtual world delivery model will be better than what currently exists. Research demonstrating effectiveness could be the most useful in changing minds.  Those who are effectively using virtual worlds for instruction should publish/share their work.
Attitudes towards gaming and virtual worlds can be negative based on some unsavory stories and misconceptions. Marketing of research and positive examples are needed to overcome the impact of negative attitudes.   There is mounting research in the area of games, student engagement and their positive influence on learning.

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