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Second Life in education: A review of publications from its launch to 2011


Address for correspondence: Dr Feihong Wang, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Learning Sciences and Technologies, 902 Brightwood Manor Dr. Apt. C3, Blacksburg, VA 24060, USA. Email:


The purpose of this review was to explore how Second Life (SL) has been discussed, investigated and applied in education from its launch to present. Two research questions guided the review: (1) what are the annual publication number and its percentage of empirical studies?; (2) what are the characteristics of the empirical studies regarding the academic levels, subject areas, pedagogical frameworks, evolution of research foci, research methods and sample sizes? A total of 107 papers from 68 refereed journals were reviewed. The findings of the review indicated that SL research has outgrown merely envisioning SL for educational purposes and switched to empirical explorations. Most of the empirical studies were conducted in college settings. The research had been most frequently carried out in teacher education, language education, business, hospitality and tourism and computer disciplines. The most recent research focus was to find out issues, problems and factors that might affect SL-based learning as well as the relevant solutions. This study can contribute to the discussion on the instructional use of SL by providing researchers with a summary of previous attempted studies. Several recommendations for future research are provided based on the findings.

Practitioner Notes

What is already known about this topic

  • Second Life (SL) is currently the most mature and popular virtual world being used in education.
  • SL has been used by educators to teach and supplement classes.
  • There are rich anecdotal stories, conference presentations and scholarly publications concerning what educators have been doing in SL.

What this paper adds

  • An overview of the development and evolution of SL-related research in education from its launch to present.
  • Answers to questions, such as “is the educational implementation of SL still in its infancy?,” “what were the subject areas and academic levels that have been explored by researchers?” and “has the research foci evolved throughout the years?”
  • Assistance to researchers for identifying and locating areas for future explorations.

Implications for practice and/or policy

  • There are studies, reports and stories that exemplify how SL can be used for language teaching, business, hospitality and tourism, computer studies and so on.
  • Educators and researchers in K-12 and adult education can pay more attention to using SL as an instructional tool.
  • Educators and researchers in the fields such as chemistry and mathematic can explore more about the instructional use of SL.