Second Life

Second Life

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Second Life is an adapted term that defines the virtual world of an online community who explore, interact, use and create objects though their avatars (online characters). The settings of these online communities can range from popular culture, imagined landscapes, contemporary spaces or historical locations, and paradigms.

Linden Lab, an American Internet company, began developing its online virtual world in 1999, which culminated in its primary product - Second Life – launched in June 2003. This sophisticated, 3-dimensional interactive environment emerged from primitive beginnings in an attempt to engage in a 360° degree virtual experience.[1] Unlike other online environments, where chat is the sole interactive activity, Second Life also contains a three-dimensional world, one to be explored, shared and used as a creative tool kit for building virtual, interactive objects. Put simply, Second Life is a large digital sandbox where real experiences are simulated.

Defining Second Life is a frequent question for debate, whether it should be understood as a virtual world, a computer game, or a Chat Room. The product has no designated objective or traditional game plan. Moreover, it has no beginning or end, and is not designed to foster competition. Yet, it tends to have the appearance of a game and is often assumed to be one. As such, it lends itself as a template for a motivating learning platform, and is rapidly being adopted as an educative tool. It has the capacity to be used as part of an e-Learning based classroom or as a space to meet, communicate and collaborate.

Second Life’s capacity to offer immediate presence in its virtual environment is compelling. The education community is now the fastest growing in Second Life, particularly in the groups: Second Life Education (SLED), Healthcare Educators and Non-Profit Educators[2] are leveraging their profiles and aims, sourcing collaborative partnerships, and mapping new connections for support. These sectors see Second Life as a cost effective way-forward in distance learning, with 143 accredited educational institutions, representing 19 countries, already participating in its vibrant, active, and dynamic community.[3]

There are a number of possibilities to adopt Second Life aspects for strategic engagement in the virtual world, for the benefit of adult learners and non-profit organisations. Whether this is to network, socialise, promote, occupy, facilitate e-Learning, or other activity. The diversity of its activities has the potential to reach people not normally connected to the activities of non-profit organisations, but who come across an event or reference to it embedded in Second Life whilst being virtually interactive.

Evidence suggests that academic engagement, with software created for e-Learning platforms, have begun to merge open-source project tools with Second Life’s virtual environment capabilities. Together they are transforming teaching pedagogies, methodologies and traditional learning environments, presenting a contemporary shift in knowledge exchange and experience.

The following gateways are exploring these opportunities, and provide examples to demonstrate the effectiveness of Second Life’s virtual environment for non-profit organisations, and educationalists in adult learning.

Implementation for Non-Profits

One way in which Non Profits can benefit from Second Life in their context is by considering a campaign or project that has a definite beginning, middle and end. Aspects that may need to be considered could include:

  • What a particular profiling campaign might look like in a virtual community.
  • How the success of the project should be measured in a virtual environment.
  • What the deliverables would be at the end of the project cycle.

Areas of non-profit activity where Second Life tools might be implemented to an advantage, include:

  • Education – introducing peer to peer and sandbox learning (see models below).
  • Outreach – holding regular events (discussions, classes, support group meetings, conferences, and workshops); identifying interesting groups and networks; staffing the office; installation of scripted objects informing staff, and volunteers, when their virtual space is visited.
  • Collaboration – encourage volunteering and leadership; instigating contests and competition as a way to get people involved in creating content and working together.
  • Fundraising – adopting multi-model strategies – letting the community respond with their ideas and then implement; event fundraising – hosting high profile events that offer some form of entertainment to capture the interest of donors and others.

Education: e-Learning Utilising the virtual environment of Second Life, as an instructional tool for e-Learning, provides people with a lived experience of a radically different model of education. Implementation requires that goals, activities, feedback, and consequences be aligned to desired learning outcomes. With sufficient structure and guidance learners can reach instructional goals managed in ways that minimize distractions and extraneous mental load.

Some models include:

Sloodle (A Simulation Linked Object Orientated Learning Environment) This is a free open source community project, which integrates the multi-user virtual environments of Second Life and/or OpenSim with Moodle Learning Management System.

In 2006 The Open University (OU) began carving a virtual environment in Teen Second Life, entitled Schome Park, for its students and staff who do not have access to a real campus. In conjunction with a wiki and a forum, it has given its participants a ‘lived experience’ of radically different approaches to education.[4]

Currently, the OU occupies several regions in Second Life:

  • OU island, the main arrival point with teaching and learning spaces.
  • OUtopia, a virtual village inhabited with a community of OU people.
  • Deep Think, a virtual campus for an online part-time MPhil in Computing.
  • Open University 2, for hosting one-off events for large numbers of participants.
  • Open University HRD, human resources training, role play and conference hosting.
  • OU Ocean, a buffer zone between the formal learning regions and OUtopia village.

In parallel the University of Leicester (UoL) UK developed a Learning Innovation Strategy in Second Life manifest as Media Zoo - a research dissemination forum, and a supportive, experimental environment.

Leicester’s virtual Media Zoo is hosted by its Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA) bringing together teachers and researchers interested in teaching and learning innovation. Media Zoo workshops, seminars and demonstration activities are carried out within a four-quadrant framework (technologies, pedagogies, markets and missions) based on an e-Learning and pedagogical strategic framework. [5] This underpins the whole Media Zoo concept which visitors can explore just as they would in real-life or online.
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Find below additional information and resources.
Link Content
16 ways to use Second Life in your Classroom: pedagogical approaches and virtual assignments by MICHELE RYAN Lancaster University, Department of Management Learning & Leadership Lancaster, United Kingdom (2008). (Academic paper, sign up for pdf) An insightful doctoral paper, published on the web, outlines ways to use Second Life in the classroom, focusing on pedagogical approaches and virtual assignments
Developing the Media Zoo in Second Life (Academic paper, 17 pages) It explains and discusses the virtual version of the Zoo in SL, how it was developed and how it has been used to demonstrate the potential of SL for teaching and learning, inclusive of a table outlining the technical issues and academic-related hurdles that had to be negotiated.


  1. [
  2. [NPSL operate in Second Life through ‘TechSoup’, a web facilitator that aims to lower the barrier of access to this virtual environment for social benefit organisations around the world, creating a virtual sandpit for its interactive community. In offering free office space to qualifying non-profit groups, TechSoup facilitates environments where NPSL can meet virtually and network, create cooperative learning platforms, foster outreach and education, fundraise and explore ways of utilizing the space. A certain degree of infrastructure is in place to ensure these environments are active and participatory.
  3. [Post 1960, generations brought up after the general introduction of digital technology , have a greater understanding of the concepts of Second Life, as they are engaged with interactive virtual games and simulations for long periods of study. As such, they are seen as having different neurological requirements for learning, being more naturally motivated to learn in highly interactive, media intensive virtual environments, than traditional lesson formats. This underpins the importance of implementing strategies in virtual worlds that will greatly facilitate and enhance the delivery and practice of e-learning.
  4. [For more detailed information and reports about the Schome Park Programme see
  5. Salmon, G. (2005) ‘Flying not flapping : a strategic framework for e-Learning and pedagogical innovation in higher education institutions. ’Research in Learning Technology, 13, 3, 201-208.