Saturday, 28 March 2009

Virtual Learning becoming reality....

Virtual Environments such as Second Life clearly have huge potential for use as a learning tool. To date I have only really toyed with the idea but am an ever increasingly interested observer.

This article in Outsourcing Journal really caught my eye because it describes how Ernst & Young are using Second Life to train their auditors. My first reaction was to chuckle at the thought of bright young auditors sitting down at a screen in their pin stripe suits......but then I thought that if it works for an accounting firm who can be very conservative, then this technology is hitting the main stream!

Last year the firm completed a generational study, which pointedly asked Gen Y to list the differences between themselves and the baby boomers. "We learned this group has a greater comfort and confidence with technology," says Michael Hamilton, partner and chief learning and development officer.

The virtual world that has been created simulates a client environment (a cookie manufactuer). As the students move throughout the virtual warehouse, they face many of the real-life issues that may arise in an actual inventory. Students stumbled over cases of flour and other raw materials that appear to have been damaged by moisture. Should they count these as inventory even though they appeared to be unusable? Should the boxes of cookies on the shipping dock waiting for the next day delivery count as inventory? What about the cookies baking in the large ovens? Are they counted as inventory? When the students aredone, they have the opportunity to compare their inventory decisions and the logic surrounding those decisions with those of more experienced auditors

The project team divided the training class in two: half the group took the traditional classroom training, while the other half plugged in their headsets and headed off to Ernst & Young's island on Second Life.

Hamilton says one of the "ah ha" discoveries was that the young auditors who completed a simulated audit in Second Life were slightly less confident than their peers who completed the traditional training. "We suspect the auditors who participated in the traditional instructor-led training had an unwarranted confidence in their ability to conduct a physical inventory count," he reports. "The virtual learners had more anxiety because the simulation demonstrated they could not always anticipate real-world issues. This anxiety caused them to find the right person and ask the right questions. When you are learning a new skill, asking questions is an important part of the learning process" says Hamilton.

Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:

  • Ernst & Young found 3-D learning better prepared new auditors by giving them real-world experience. It compared the results with new auditors who took a traditional instructor-led class.
  • 3-D learning is a cost-effective alternative to on-site training sessions because it can deliver the two goals of the meeting: training the employees and creating camaraderie and collaboration.
  • 3-D learning captures learning digitally, providing a record of what has been informal, on-the-job training. It is a good tool to capture the knowledge of retiring employees.
  • 3-D learning is a good way for adults to learn because they can retain more knowledge.
  • Don't underestimate the time and effort needed to introduce learners to this new platform. Plan to help your learners through the initial set-up and orientation. Once they've been properly introduced, most enjoy the experience.
  • Consult with others working in this space. Old instructional design approaches simply don't work in the virtual world.
You can view a 3 minute tour of the virtual world here.

I think this is a great example of an organisation experimenting with the technology to achieve a real business objective.

If you want to learn more about virtual worlds then I suggest you also read this article that was published in Elearn Magazine. It provides an excellent introduction to virtual worlds along with some sound advice on taking your first steps.

As L&D professionals it is really important to keep up to date with this kind of technology. Sometimes you need to play with it before you can really see the what are you waiting for.....?

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