I recently attended a conference in San Diego presented by NASBA, the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, entitled “Capitalizing on Momentum to Create Change”. One of the most intriguing speakers at a very engaging and information-packed event was Bill Sheridan, CAE. Bill is the E-Communications Manager and Editor at the Maryland Association of CPAs.
Bill’s talk – “Learning with Avatars: How Virtual Worlds are Redefining the Classroom” – discussed the use of the virtual world in the educational environment. Bill’s organization, The Maryland Association of CPAs, has already built two “islands” in Second Life. These are destinations in cyberspace – a place for users, through the form of an avatar, to gather much as they would in a real-life location. Initially focused on a place for accountants to network without requiring the travel, time, and expense generally associated, MACPA found that they could offer alternative, CPE-qualifying learning events. [NOTE: Bill's slide presentation, linked here, features some great clips and list of resources!]
Bill pointed out several benefits of virtual education that MACPA has already realized:
• Death of distance: ability of users to learn anytime, from anywhere.
• Exposure to world-class thought leaders: typically impractical in a physical classroom.
• Prepare for the worst: create and solve problems without real-world consequences.
• Engagement: shy students open up in a virtual setting.
• Collaboration: Students in many locations, internationally, can work and learn together.
With millions of users already comfortable with virtual environments – think Farmville (54 million), Cityville (100 million), or World of Warcraft (12 million) – attorneys, especially those who have grown up with this technology readily available, could log into a virtual world to get their CLE. A speaker or panel of attorneys located in offices around the world deliver interactive and up-to-the-minute presentations. These are top level thought leaders. Bringing this group together would be prohibitively expensive, but in a virtual world the costs are low. Your audience gathers from locations as diverse as internet access will allow.
The question becomes – is this something that the CLE regulators will accredit? Generally, CLE rules require the following:
• Significant intellectual or practical content
• Primary objective to increase professional legal competency
• Organized program of learning
• Taught by instructors with expertise in the subject matter through academic or practical experience
• Specifically tailored to the legal audience
• Thourough high-quality written materials
• Physical setting conducive to learning or suitable to the educational course
It is the last point that would probably require the most vetting from state regulators. I think that, depending on the technology employed, these programs would qualify for credit in most jurisdictions that allow for online learning. The same types of interactions between speaker and audience are possible. The events are happening in real time. Tracking and verifying attendance is possible.
This is an area that I will continue to explore now that Bill’s talk has peaked my interest. There are a lot of possibilities to build an engaging and entertaining yet educational experience in a virtual environment. Despite the fact that I hated “Avatar”.