I have written before on the vast potential of 3-D platforms as a natural extension of the Web for medical education and there is a wonderful new JMIR article by Margaret Hansen entitled, "Versatile, Immersive, Creative and Dynamic Virtual 3-D Healthcare Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature" that is worth checking out. The author provides an overview of the different environments, weighs their pros and cons, and calls for more research in this emerging area of elearning.
Here are some of my thoughts on three of the platforms discussed in the article:
- Second Life: Probably the most well-known of the immersive platforms, Second Life (SL) enables authors to create their own content, supports various types of interactive media (eg, VoIP, audio, video), and can integrate with Web APIs and backend learning management systems, such as Moodle, for outcomes analysis and CME administration. Academic centers and government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control have setup shop in SL with various projects and IBM has invested millions of dollars in SL development. The primary limitation I see hindering the broader use of SL in medical education is the requirement to download and install a separate client application to participate "in-world." This practice is usually frowned upon or prohibited by network administrators (for legitimate reasons) at large organizations, such as medical centers and pharmaceutical companies, unless their is an internal commitment to SL as a training platform. The open source nature of the SL client application may lessen of those security concerns.
- Lively by Google: This is Google's much anticipated move into the 3-D Web. The newly released service lets authors create avatars and rooms from pre-canned templates and embed them into Web pages. Lively supports chat and YouTube video streaming into your room. I can see this app as a low cost way to conduct patient support groups or video presentations as you can restrict access to the room with usernames and passwords. However, the template and avatar design are clearly aimed at teens and, in the current version, there is no support for external LMS support or for Mac. But its Google and I am sure that they will have many new enhancements in the near future, including user-generated content, Mac support, and API integration.
- ALIVE: ALIVE: Advanced Learning and Immersive Virtual Environments is an initiative by the University of Southern Queensland designed to create an easy-to-use, drag and drop tool for producing Web-based learning tools. Out of the gate, I will admit that I was unable to install the DXviewer (despite meeting the stated system requirements) required to view the learning objects. I did watch a number of YouTube tutorials the group has published and it looks interesting. I cannot comment anymore in this post without successfully installing their components and giving them a fair shake. I will say that any efforts to make 3-D publishing directly to the Web has my support!
Overall, I agree with the author on many of her conclusions and believe that 3-D immersive environments hold great promise for health education.