In recent times, there has bee a growing interest as to what alternative strategies can be adapted to give the most immersive experience for online learning students. Development of web 2.0 technologies have made the current online learning platforms to perform at a higher level than what it was used to when it comes to student – student interactions as well as student – tutor interactions.
For several years, researchers explored the possibility of using a ‘virtual world’ platform for online learning and in recent times, this has become a reality with the rapid popularization of virtual worlds such as ‘second life’. Being a 3D animated platform, it facilitates many new features which can be thought of as impossible in previous online learning platforms. Such features which would facilitate interaction and behaviors in the online environment as well as the communication tools that are available, will make Second Life an immersive experience for learners, which would be particularly useful in fields such as ‘medical education’.
So far, several medical institutes have based their learning programmes in second life along with several other health related institutes opting to use second life for dissemination of health education.
Among the Medical Education training activities in ‘Second Life’, ‘Virtual Hospital’ of the Imperial College in London can be taken in as a notable exception due to its comprehensive approach in managing a patient at different levels throughout his or her hospital stay. More importantly, it allows the users to interview patients which would be partly be automated and guided in order to arrive at a expected clinical decision.
Another health related training activity which makes use of ‘Second Life’, ‘Play2Train’ simulation incorporate one to one communication through the use of ‘second life’ audio features and it is able to mimic the way we communicate in an actual emergency situation.
The ‘HealthInfo Island’ in ‘Second Life’ which is an initiative funded by US National Library of Medicine, apart from using direct one to one communication, also make use of a ‘intelligent chatbot’ called ‘healthy’ to provide the users with answers to certain questions when real life personal are not available in the site. Although these ‘chatbots’ are not able to interact as an ‘avatar’ representation of a real life person, it can guide a user and at times can provide relevant and accurate answers as well.
Thus, the present use of ‘Second Life’ in Medical Education promotes the idea that it can be used as an educational tool and the literature emphasize the need to assess its effectiveness in relation to existing or a similar traditional mode teaching programme in order to justify its use.