Organizations Investigating Virtual Options for Training, More

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There is sometimes a fine line between snark and insensitivity. Believe me, I know, having crossed it many times. In 2009 I wrote a post in which I gave an undeserved hard time to Julie Shannan, a Texas State Technical College student who earned a virtual media design certificate in Second Life, while trying to make a point that virtual worlds were no substitute for the real thing.


Shannan took the time to issue a thoughtful response, which was more than my snark deserved. Her comments, in part:

... As a director of Girlstart, a nonprofit that educates and inspires girls in math, science and technology, I am looking for new technology avenues that we can use and embrace to bring science and technology to life. And Second Life has the ability to supplement and expand 2D learning experiences into a 3D experience for students. TSTC is using Second Life as an AVENUE that is convenient and accessible for students, while adding a virtual world interaction with other students and instructions. It is not a substitute for my real life. I DO know how to talk to people in the real life, I run a nonprofit and speak several times a year at local and national conferences. ...

Since then, of course, hospitals and other organizations have been using Second Life to offer training that is more cost effective - and in some cases more effective - than real-world alternatives. I cited a Wall Street Journal article that mentioned Second Life was used to train medical and nursing students in clinical skills. Medical schools traditionally have used computerized mannequins, which can be programmed to exhibit certain symptoms. The mannequins are so expensive, lots of students must share them. In Second Life, though, they can get in more practice interviewing virtual patients, filling in medical charts and making diagnoses.


Shannan was a woman ahead of her time, or at least on top of a trend. In contrast, I was a woman behind the ball.


The virtual training trend continues, as can be seen from a nextgov article that discusses government agencies' efforts to incorporate virtual training into their programs. For instance, the State Department brought together a dozen U.S. and Egyptian architecture students for a three-month project in Second Life, during which the students considered options for several miles of land between the outskirts of Cairo and the pyramids of Giza. It exposed students to diverse cultures at a cost of just $1,000, obviously far cheaper than it would have been to actually travel to each others' countries. And, as a State Department representative said during a recent roundtable on virtual worlds, that option would not have been open to Egyptian women from conservative families.


Another example mentioned in the article is the National Center for Telehealth and Technology's virtual world education program that helps returning soldiers recognize and respond to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The program serves soldiers who aren't comfortable visiting a military therapist because they are self-conscious or fear it will hurt their career prospects, as well as reservists who do not have ready access to a qualified therapist.


According to the article, the Army is considering whether it can use versions of virtual world shooting games, adapted to meet government security requirements, to lower its training costs. Thus far, however, the Army's Simulation and Training Technology Center has been unable to create a simulation that can replace what a soldier can learn from a live trainer.


Still, these kinds of examples point to the growing acceptance of gamification and make me think Gartner is on target with its prediction that more than 70 percent of the world's largest companies will use gamification for at least one aspect of their organization by 2014.