20 Uses For Virtual Worlds In The Classroom

Virtual worlds can be used as a meeting space for students to attend lecture with embedded videos, illustrations, or 3D models.

How To Use Virtual Worlds In The Classroom

I once had to teach high school students the importance of safety precautions for a welding class. 

I presented several PowerPoint presentations, a safety exam, and then allowed those who passed the exam to begin welding.  I trembled.  Despite knowing I had prepared them well, I would have much preferred for students to interact in a virtual world first. As a teacher, I can see the many advantages virtual worlds provide.

I delved a bit further into the uses of virtual worlds and even created an avatar of my own (PiJustice) to see the current applications of virtual worlds in education. Here is what I found:

Virtual worlds are emerging as a meeting place for the world’s most prestigious universities, non-profits, and academic institutions. Their uses are varied and can adapt to different needs.

Communications scenarios

It is clear virtual worlds are being used to teach field-specific communications.  For example, an MBA negotiations class may meet virtually with different company leaders to negotiate the terms of an agreement.

Developing Tools

Some scientific fields are integrating lectures with 3D models for teaching purposes.  For instance, in the field of forensic pathology, Second Life is being used to teach autopsy procedures.

Staging an Exhibition

Students at the London College of Fashion held a virtual degree show and created a Second Life building to display their final projects.

Virtual campuses

These are becoming quite common. Many universities are building a virtual presence to focus on learning resources, student centers, and marketing efforts.

Virtual Classrooms

Some professors are using the platform as a meeting space for students to attend lectures with embedded videos, illustrations, ebooks, or 3D models.

Virtual Centers

Several prestigious research labs and centers, such as the POC Center for Emerging Neurotechnology are creating virtual offices to discuss ideas, meet colleagues, share methodologies, or compare research.

Conferences Facilities

The MAYO clinic in Second Life hosts virtual events on diseases for residents and even includes a bookstore.

Technical Training

A virtual scenario might prepare hairstylists to practice the steps of the coloring process. Practice can not only build confidence but emphasize important techniques.

Virtual Field trip

This option is great if you only want to use the technology on a trial basis or as a final project. Engineers might visit a chemical plant and see how they would address problems.

Simulated Experiences

To experience a simulated world. For instance, The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) created a world to simulate a tsunami or hurricane.

Safety-focused Lessons

This can be especially useful to see if students are ready to perform dangerous activities that can be life-threatening, such as trauma, terrorist, or evacuation training.

Virtual World economies

Virtual worlds have their own currency and economies. The Second Life currency is the Linden, which can be used to buy objects, land, or personalize your virtual appearance. Students might explore the economy of a virtual world. USC Marshall School of Business uses the platform to allow students to run their own businesses and manage rental properties.

Archaeological and historical sites

Some countries are exploring replicating archeological sites for public viewing and research studies.

Libraries and Museums

Some ALA (American Library Association) academics predict that ‘cloud’ technology coupled with virtual platforms may make traditional libraries obsolete. Stanford University already has a virtual university library in Second Life.

Student Activism

Anti-violence campuses on Second Life integrate seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and films about anti-bullying, violence, and discrimination.

Language Learning

Second life is especially popular for practicing language skills. Text and audio forms of language can be integrated meaningfully to support learning.

Cultural Immersion

Some courses use virtual worlds to recreate interactive exhibits, such as exploring the heritage of Native peoples.

Instructors design a world with specific parameters

This is especially useful if you want students to practice exploring a scientific site, such as a virtual mine before visiting the real thing.

Research Studies

Since the field is still relatively new, virtual worlds themselves are the subject of much academic research. Cornell University’s Weill Medical College is currently exploring if Virtual Technology can be used to help individuals cope with PTSD related to the World Trade Center bombings.


The process of creating a world provides a learning experience in itself.  Students must learn what parameters and aspects should be included to have it simulate a real situation or environment. For example, an urban planning course might create a world that follows the principles of an ideal urban plan or architecture students might design buildings for a city.

But not all virtual worlds are created equal.

Students in COM 563:Virtual Environments class created a 3D tour of the iMedia floor at Elon University.

The HITLAB (Human Interface Technology Lab) of the University of Washington has explored recent applications of virtual worlds. Some educational applications of virtual worlds are better than others.  HITLAB refers to best practices in Christine Youngblut’s research paper for the Institute of Defense Analysis, on the Educational uses of Virtual Reality Technology.

She explains that virtual spaces can be best applied to visualize abstract concepts.

What is the best application of virtual technology in the classroom?

Youngblut’s research has found some crucial characteristics for successfully integrating virtual worlds.

  • Effective virtual worlds allow learners to visualize or enact learning scenarios through active engagement.
  • The key to the efficacy of virtual worlds is interactivity, rather than immersion. This means that students learn by doing in this environment.
  • Virtual worlds can be applied to create spaces that transcend safety or distance parameters.
  • Ease of navigation through the world seems to make the user experience better and improve learning motivation.
  • Teachers are best facilitators in the discovery process, rather than problem solvers.
  • Desktop Virtual worlds are preferred as they are more cost-effective and less cumbersome than immersive VR.
  • Worlds must build learning through interaction and construction, rather than by assimilation as with traditional instruction.

In addition, virtual worlds can be used to effectively integrate media, such as:

  • eBooks
  • Video (live or pre-recorded)
  • Objects to manipulate, such as artifacts
  • Interactive calendars or blackboards
  • Surveys, where feedback is sent via email

More Ways To Use Virtual Worlds For Learning

Simulations and Experiential Learning

Virtual worlds are ideal for creating realistic simulations and experiential learning environments. Students can engage in hands-on experiences that mimic real-world scenarios, such as medical simulations, flight training, or historical reenactments. This immersive approach allows learners to practice skills and gain practical knowledge in a safe and controlled environment.

Collaborative Learning and Social Interaction

Virtual worlds enable collaborative learning through avatars, where students can interact with peers, instructors, and experts in a shared digital space. This fosters social interaction, teamwork, and communication skills development. Virtual classrooms or meeting spaces allow for discussions, group projects, and networking, making it particularly valuable for distance education and remote work scenarios.

Field Trips and Exploration

Virtual worlds can serve as a platform for virtual field trips and exploration. Students can visit historical landmarks, explore ecosystems, or journey to outer space, all from the comfort of their own computer. This provides access to experiences that might be unattainable due to budget constraints, physical limitations, or travel restrictions.

Gamification and Interactive Learning

Gamification elements in virtual worlds can make learning engaging and fun. Quests, challenges, and rewards can motivate students to participate and complete educational tasks actively. Game-based learning within virtual worlds can effectively teach and reinforce various subjects, from math and science to language arts and history.

It’s important to note that the successful use of virtual worlds for learning often requires appropriate technology, instructional design, and support for participants. Educators should consider the learning objectives, target audience, and available resources when implementing virtual world experiences to ensure they are both effective and engaging.