Virtual Environments – the Cure for Short Attention Span Theater in E-learning by Eric Vidal
Just about everybody remembers that one special high school teacher who knew how to capture the attention of a group of hormonally challenged teens. Whether he/she had a commanding presence, dressed up in costumes, related lessons to current music or movies, or used some other device, that teacher understood how important it was to have students not just present but engaged.
In today’s world, with all its distractions, it’s tougher than ever to get learners engaged – especially when they’re sitting in front of a computer screen hundreds or possibly thousands of miles away from the instructor. Even those with the best intentions can quickly find themselves sneaking a peak at email, responding to a text, looking at papers on their desk, etc. – especially if what’s on the screen isn’t really much different from what the learner experiences day to day.
That’s one of the advantages of going the extra step to create a virtual environment for eLearning. Instead of providing the usual Welcome screen followed by ordinary documents, you can create virtual surroundings for the materials that make the learner feel like he/she is in an actual classroom – right down to having other virtual users in the surrounding area.
Think about it. Humans by nature are very visual. We respond very viscerally to visual stimulation; if you doubt that, think about all the people who reported feeling ill after watching the movie Avatar.
By creating a virtual environment, we can take learners out of their ordinary surroundings and pull them into a world that is focused on learning. Instead of giving them a listing of links to documents, we can let them move through space, opening different doors that have the materials organized by type, topic, date or whatever designation we choose. It’s a bit surreal when you see it, and yet that’s exactly what makes it engaging. Done right it’s almost like art, pulling you in and keeping you there for however long the session runs. For those presenting to global audiences, visuals are a universal language. You don’t have to translate a picture of a chair, because it’s understood no matter what language the student speaks.
One of the great things these days is it isn’t that tough to set up a virtual environment for learning either. Today’s technology has templates anyone can use to create a basic virtual environment in minutes. Of course, if you’re creatively inclined (or know someone who is) you can branch out from those templates and put learners in any time or place you want. For example, if you’re studying ancient history, your classroom can be in an Egyptian pyramid or the Roman Senate; if the topic is engineering-oriented, you can hold class on a space station. Whatever it takes to put your students in the right frame of mind to put down their smartphones and really start interacting with the material – and the teacher, and each other.
It’s tough enough to engage a group of people in the same room; it’s even tougher when they’re logging in from all over. Virtual environments provide a cure for short attention spans and help you ensure what you’re teaching comes through loud and clear.
Eric Vidal is the Director of Product Marketing for the Event Services Business Segment at InterCall (www.intercall.com), the world’s largest conferencing and collaboration services provider. He can be reached at email@example.com.