The two most common ways of communicating in Second Life are chat (public and local) and IM (private and acrossthe grid).These are also two of the most common ways that we communicate in the current suites of online course tools - LMSs, CMSs, etc.. But there is something different about chat and IM in Second Life. It does not feel (to me anyway) to be as disembodied or remote as it does in Moodle, Blackboard, or a similar online learning environment.
Part of this is, I believe, a direct result of the visual nature of Second Life, but more importantly its immersive nature. Ask anyone who has spent any time in Second Life and they all comment on how fast time went by - it is an immersive, experiential environment and your avatar gives you presence that does not exist in other online learning tools (yes I believe that Second Life is an online learning tool).
So is presence important in learning? Does all learning have to be face-to-face in order to work? I think that the answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second one is a definite no. There are all sorts of examples of very successful online learning opportunities, and legions of happy learners to prove it. But does presence add something to the experience? That is the question that needs answering. I certainly believe that it does, but I have no proof other than my own opinion and experiences and that of several like-minded friends and colleagues.
If presence does add to a learning environment, what are the implications for us as adult educators? How will we have to offer online learning opportunities if we need to have presence? Will Second Life and similar MUVEs spell the end of the current crop of LMS and other online learning systems? Will future online learning environments include a visual component to add presence? Can there be presence without a visual interface? Hmmm...
(Photo from BunchofPants)