“Massive”—the new buzz word! What does it mean, what does it encompass, what does it do for learning? To find out, I met Kevin Buckley, engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of immersV, a company focussing on virtual worlds and gaming technology in serious applications.
Kevin is not from the traditional Learning and Development (L&D) community. He is a self-confessed technology person. After a career in industry he turned to the use of immersive worlds in commerce. His focus has now shifted to academia where he boasts an impressive consultancy résumé.
So back to “massive.” In my conversations with Kevin, he shared his insights about online communities that transcend companies, industries, and even national boundaries. A video of one of these conversations is available in the box below, and I will summarize other parts of our discussions in the rest of this article.
Video: Interview with Kevin Buckley about “massive” formats for eLearning
MMORPGs, MOOCs, and the pedagogical journey
We are all familiar with the rise of the MOOC. But there is also the MMORPG, the massive multi-player, online, role-playing game. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but in preparing this article I did learn about the practical application of the MMORPG concept in serious games, now a hot discussion topic in pedagogic and production circles. Last week, the UK’s BBC traced Second Life from a holy grail of communication and gaming that promised much, but is now a surpassed platform. In the end, it seems that Second Life was just another step along the technology-supported learning and social media journey.
Early this year Gartner published its survey of trends in L&D as perceived by business leaders. Only 15% saw serious games as ways of promoting learning in their enterprises. But in only 6 months a great deal has changed. Another false dawn? The “M” word is now everywhere.
There is huge debate about the value, sustainability, and ultimate impact of the MOOC—but these courses continue to arrive and seemingly to thrive. Games—or MMORPG’s—are now high on the L&D agenda. And according to Kevin, the two are linked.
“It is well known that ‘practice through simulation’ is an excellent way to improve skills. Using multi-player, immersive technology to undertake those activities in a shared environment has the capability to extend those scenarios much further.”
Education leads the way
“In the early days of the serious game, cost was a factor, but much more so was the concern about access and the perceived need for fibre technology to achieve sufficient reach. Broadband has changed all that, bringing both academic content and superior pedagogical solutions into the reach of even some of the poorest and most isolated communities in the world.”
As I talked to Kevin from my workplace learning perspective, I became aware that the two formats—MMORPGs and MOOCs—are very similar. Kevin told me, “There are those who get it and those who don’t. I see a huge range in the academic environment. It ranges from those who understand the power of technology and social media, who are looking (albeit frequently with huge budget constraints) for any possible way of improving the student experience, through to ‘late adopters’ who still live in a teacher-centered, face-to-face world of content delivery.” It seems to me that this is just like our workplace L&D experience.
Kevin continued, “But talking to students and to some of the academic institutions, by far the biggest perceived need of the distance-learning students, is a way to collaborate with their peers and with tutors, in the same way that ‘on campus’ students enjoy. Many students have pointed out that they often struggle to adequately articulate their areas of concern. Especially if this is in an area to which they have just been introduced. Just overhearing other students discussing these issues is enough to enable them to find a satisfactory resolution. This is much easier than engaging in one-to-one dialogues with tutors either by email or even by phone. It saves time for the students, and also for the staff.”
Pondering the future
With content delivered by open resources (especially MOOC’s), assessment and accreditation more reliably delivered online, and games and social media enabling the conversation that was previously the domain of university tutorials, one ponders the university of the future. Maybe it lies in a return to their original charter of “researching for new knowledge and passing it to the people.” Kevin agrees—the fascination is in how it will work out. “Massive” change is happening, that is for certain.
Kevin summarizes, “Immersive technology, MMORPG’s, and serious games are only chipping away at what can be done. In education, and the workplace, there is a long way to go and a lot to do. The prize is great in terms of improved ways of working, learning, and pushing the boundaries of what is possible and, at the moment, seemingly impossible!”