I've just read an excellent article by Sarah Smith-Robbins in eLearn Magazine, Are Virtual Worlds (still) Relevant in Education?, which tries to explain why virtual worlds never quite broke through in education. The main reasons for the failure of VWs are given as:
- Economy - cash-strapped universities have cut back on such experimental technologies often because they haven't been able to replace any existing investments.
- Steep learning curve - VWs have proved too different from other tools used in education and therefore take too long to learn for most students and teachers.
- VW providers unresponsive to needs of educators - VWs like Second Life were updated irritatingly often and often had little or no support for users. Payment for services was often difficult and many universities lost patience.
- VWs part of a bigger picture - education is changing thanks to many new technologies of which VWs are just one small factor. Social media are at present the dominant force enabling change.
"Ultimately, regardless of whether VWs are broadly used, their place in this broader conversation of technology's place in the university and the struggles over maintaining high quality with smaller budgets, the movement that VWs initiated is one that we shouldn't dismiss. Their adoption (or lack thereof) has a wider meaning. Educators know that there is room for improvement and we're dedicated to looking for solutions. A single technology will not solve the issues. However, the meaning behind the enthusiasm for such a tool may help us think deeper about what we're hoping to change and how we can go about it. VWs may not be as broadly relevant in education as many had hoped but that underlying hope is still very relevant."