Virtual Worlds - Simulation or Reality?

Virtual Worlds - Simulation or Reality
Summary: It’s always interesting to note someone’s response when they hear you’re using a virtual world as a learning environment. Simulation is generally the word used in the response…‘Ah, so you’re simulating the real thing’. Well yes, I suppose we are. In a way. But what I’ve thought more and more about since implementing learning within a virtual world environment is that simulation and reality can become very blurred in the virtual world. I’m no longer certain it can be simply described as simulated learning – the experience is very real. So is it simulated? Or is it reality? And does it matter?

"Virtual Worlds – Simulation or Reality?" by Deslie Ann Osborn

Vocational education in Australia is focused on workplace learning – learning that either occurs in the workplace or in a context that emulates or simulates the workplace environment. The types and formats of simulated environments are many and varied – some take the form of written case studies, scenarios and role plays while others play out in simulated training rooms with equipment and life-like mannequins – the ultimate goal being to assist the learner to learn the skills necessary for work. And these simulations are for the most part successful at achieving the goal – except for the real world experience that comes from interacting with real people in real time.

The virtual world does ‘represent the behaviors and characteristics of one system through another’ and enables ‘the act or process of pretending’ – some key characteristics of simulation. But it’s in the online interactions inside the virtual world that the line between simulation and reality becomes blurred. Is it still a simulation when the interactions are no longer ‘staged’? They are real. Real interactions between real people – completely spontaneous and ‘in the moment’, occurring in real time. Is it then reality? And why does it matter?

If what we are trying to achieve is as close to reality as possible for the most genuine of learning experiences where workplace learning is not an option, then surely virtual world environments are the ultimate in educational spaces. There are barriers to this type of learning, but from our experience, virtual worlds are a serious contender for high quality, simulated, reality learning.

Ms Deslie Ann Osborn is one of the speakers at LEARNTech Asia 2014. LEARNTech Asia 2014 will be held in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands (13-14 November 2014). For more information on the conference, please visit

LEARNTech Asia Conference 2014