Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A virtual classroom in Second Life?

Today, I got an email from a colleague, asking if it would be a good idea to provide hands on, enduser training for client software, in Second Life. A virtual classroom, where endusers are trained to work with new features in a given software package, e.g. Office 2007 or Lotus Notes 8.

Have you encountered such an event? I haven't. And I can see some issues with using Second Life for this kind of training, as well.

Not available in Second Life itself
A big problem would be, that you can't use the application that's being taught, in the virtual classroom: you can't fire up other client software (Office 2007, Lotus Notes 8) within Second Life.

This means that for showing features, how things work, what steps to take or what buttons to push, the trainer will probably have to work with an image based presentation, for instance a powerpoint presentation, but then converted to jpg images. I am afraid it would take a lot of jpg's for convering all steps you'd normally show if you could just use the application itself!

Streaming solution?
There is a solution, however: streaming media. That could be used to overcome some of these limitations. The trainer is presenting the training in the real world, and it is streamed into the virtual classroom - either prerecorded or live. If you record a training session, it can be reused later; other trainees could watch it on an individual basis, or a group can watch it together. Wether it's live or prerecorded: in both cases a trainer could be available in the SL classroom (at given times) to answer any questions the trainees may have.

Practice makes ..
In a live situation, this still means the trainees will have to practice outside of the Second Life environment. At that moment, all contact between trainer and trainee (and other trainees) is lost, which doesn't help. Imagine the trainer, in the virtual classroom, and all avatars are set to 'away' because they are practicing outside of SL- quite a motivating environment ;-) If a prerecorded session is used, that an enduser can wach at his or her own timing, then this may be less of a problem.

Native voice
On the plus side: voice is on it's way. With voice being natively available in the client, using the SL client would be enough, both for trainer and trainees, to get an audio connection. This goes a long way when presenting content in SL, and for the 'interactiveness' needed in a training situation, but may not be enough for an entire classroom setup.

Btw: as a recreational user, I'm not sure I want to use voice. As it is now, I can sit at the kitchen table, log on to Second Life, and
quietly type a conversation with someone - even if my kids run around in the kitchen, screaming and yelling, playing gotcha. With voice enabled, that's not possible, as you probably can imagine! Luckily, voice can be disabled in the SL client, and I guess many users will do that.

Back to using SL as a virtual classroom: I think it can be done, but I think it requires some extra technical steps to get it done properly, and then it's still not that straightforward. An online meeting, using (for instance) IBM Lotus Sametime 7.5's meeting center, may be more appropriate. But - if you want to use SL, you probably can.

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