Rethinking Language Learning: Virtual Worlds as a Catalyst for Change


Research on educationally designed game-based virtual learning environments and virtual worlds has begun to explore the affordances of 3D metaverses for engaging learners in ways that contrast with formal schooling. Applying constructs from ecological psychology, distributed cognition, and sociocultural perspectives, design-based longitudinal studies have shown the quality of learning taking place in technology-supported collaborative environments. But what are the affordances of virtual environments for second language learning? How can we design for a nonlinear experience of action and interaction that exploits these affordances? We explored current language teaching practices in Second Life and found that many educators simply apply their classroom approaches in the virtual space, treating the environment merely as input. Designing for optimal learning opportunities in virtual worlds requires that we rethink second language acquisition by grounding it in the ecological psychology concepts of perception-action, values-realizing, coaction, and languaging. We call for a rethinking of pedagogies based on input/output models that imply a linear progression from an initial to a goal state. Instead cognition is embodied and distributed, and avatars in 3D worlds allow us to experience virtual environments in embodied, dialogical ways. Language learning in virtual worlds calls for design that prioritizes opportunities for distributed meaning-making and coaction in values-realizing activities that go beyond task-based learning, autonomy, and construction of a second language identity.

This work is featured in the International Journal of Learning and Media in Volume 3::Issue 2

Dongping Zheng

Published under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported license.

Publication Date
Thursday, January 26, 2012