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Second Life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching


Steven Warburton is an e-learning manager at King's College London and a fellow of the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London, where he chairs the research strategy group. He moved from his initial research background in the area of neuroscience to one that now encompasses a range of research projects in technology-enhanced learning. His fields of expertise include: the impact of digital identities on lifelong learning; the use of social software in distance education; pattern languages for Web2.0; design for learning with multi-user virtual environments; feedback loops in formative e-assessment; and support for communities of practice in user innovation and emerging technologies. His interests are varied but focus largely on the meaning of identity in online learning, the potential impact of virtual worlds on education, social presence and social networks, and the changing nature of change. School of Law, the King's College London, Strand, London W2CR 2LS, UK. Email:


Second Life (SL) is currently the most mature and popular multi-user virtual world platform being used in education. Through an in-depth examination of SL, this article explores its potential and the barriers that multi-user virtual environments present to educators wanting to use immersive 3-D spaces in their teaching. The context is set by tracing the history of virtual worlds back to early multi-user online computer gaming environments and describing the current trends in the development of 3-D immersive spaces. A typology for virtual worlds is developed and the key features that have made unstructured 3-D spaces so attractive to educators are described. The popularity in use of SL is examined through three critical components of the virtual environment experience: technical, immersive and social. From here, the paper discusses the affordances that SL offers for educational activities and the types of teaching approaches that are being explored by institutions. The work concludes with a critical analysis of the barriers to successful implementation of SL as an educational tool and maps a number of developments that are underway to address these issues across virtual worlds more broadly.