August, 2000


The Next e-Learning Revolution...


Recently, the explosive growth of the Internet has given rise to an exciting new platform for instructional delivery, the virtual classroom. Virtual classrooms are sites on the World Wide Web that offer students a "virtual space" in which to receive distance education, home schooling, supplemental instruction and various other online learning experiences. Instruction delivered via virtual classroom has the distinct advantage of being more flexible, cost-effective and far reaching than traditional school-based instruction. Moreover, since virtual classrooms are by definition, "virtual" in nature, they can support a variety of rich learning experiences that transcend the boundaries of the four-walled classroom.

However, while virtual classrooms open new doors of educational opportunity, they also unleash a host of new pedagogical challenges. One of the most significant of these is how to give greater dimension to the virtual learning experience. Today, practically all virtual classrooms found on the Web are built upon the ubiquitous, two-dimensional Web page. While 2D Web pages are an appropriate delivery platform for many subjects, their effectiveness falls far short whenever a given curriculum requires that learners observe, examine, explore, manipulate or interact with three-dimensional objects or constructs. Even the strongest proponents of online learning will concede that in many educational domains, this can be a major limitation.

When virtual classrooms are used for K-12 online learning, home schooling, or youth vocational training, this 2D limitation becomes particularly acute. Years of scientific research and teacher observations have shown that younger students, particularly those in elementary and middle school, require many more opportunities for hands-on learning, interactive play and in-the-round visualization than do older students. This is because the young intellect is more readily stimulated by seeing and doing things in three dimensions than in two dimensions. Unfortunately, today's virtual classrooms are simply not designed to accommodate dynamic, three-dimensional learning activities. So in spite of educators' best efforts, lessons delivered via virtual classroom often fail to engage the interest of primary and secondary level students.

Thus, providers of K-12 online learning are faced with two significant problems…

... How to develop virtual classrooms that support (or at least simulate) hand-on learning experiences, interactive play and in-the-round visualization, in order to make these learning sites more appropriate for young students

... How to endow virtual classrooms with greater dimension when available tools for online learning and Web design are firmly rooted in the two-dimensional Web page

In a bold effort to tackle these problems, Imaginology (a Gainesville, Florida based start-up company) is developing an e-learning tool that will enable educators to quickly and easily generate 3D virtual reality classrooms on the Web. Dubbed 3D CLASSTime, this innovative new product will provide for the building and browsing of "3D classpaces", virtual three-dimensional environments that allow teachers and students to communicate and interact with each other online, much as they would in real world classrooms. Instructors will also be able to use these 3D classpaces to simulate physical demonstrations, field trips, experiments, manipulations, presentations and other learning activities that are otherwise beyond the capability of 2D Web pages.

Unlike anything else currently offered in the e-learning marketplace, 3D CLASSTime will make it feasible for educators to develop virtual classrooms that better meet the pedagogical needs of younger learners. It will employ an innovative approach to instructional design that combines state-of-the-art "Web3D" simulation with traditional Web browsing, resulting in an application interface that looks and feels less like an online textbook and more like an online game. And, as an added benefit, it will finally make it viable for young learners or anyone else with limited reading ability to independently navigate educational Web sites and engage in rich online learning experiences. ***