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Learning spaces in virtual worlds: bringing our distance students home

Gil Ortega, Mari Carmen; Falconer, Liz

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© 2015, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose – Distance learning (DL) programmes are becoming increasingly popular in higher education. Overcoming feelings of isolation that may occur due to the reduced support available, the few possibilities of social interaction and the non-existent campus atmosphere in online courses, have become one of the major challenges of designers and instructors of DL programmes. The paper aims to discuss these issues. Design/methodology/approach – This paper provides an example of how the authors can create and use virtual world (VW) learning spaces that not only match the face-to-face learning experience, but also enhance it. Innovation@UWE Island in Second Life, home of the MA education in virtual worlds, is an example of pedagogical innovation that capitalises on what VWs have to offer to social aspects of teaching and learning. In this programme the authors use a three-dimensional virtual space to provide postgraduate students – physically located in diverse geographical areas of the world – with a sense of community and connectedness that matches the sense of belonging that often accompanies the on-campus learning experience. Findings – The paper provides examples of students engaging in an environment where traditional conceptions of both “teaching” and “learning” do not apply, where the four-walled classroom is not the only setting where learning happens, where everyone in the group can potentially be an instructor or a peer, an expert or a novice, and learn from each other in a meaningful way. Originality/value – This paper introduces the rationale behind the choice of architecture of the learning environment as well as the instructional design of the programme to enhance co-presence and place presence, to build a true community of practice and to foster collaboration for reflective learning.


Gil Ortega, M. C., & Falconer, L. (2015). Learning spaces in virtual worlds: bringing our distance students home. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 7(1), 83-98.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Apr 13, 2015
Deposit Date Apr 13, 2015
Publicly Available Date Apr 19, 2016
Journal Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education
Print ISSN 2050-7003
Electronic ISSN 1758-1184
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 7
Issue 1
Pages 83-98
Keywords virtual worlds, education, distance learning
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : This article is (c) Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here ( Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


HTEL Gil and Falconer R16.docx (4.8 Mb)

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