Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MUVE and behaviorism

Since many of us in the IDD&E core classes are beginning to learn more about learning theories, I thought that this week would be a good opportunity to relate to how virtual learning in MUVE such as Second Life (SL) might be understood through the filter of the behaviorist learning theory. In a way, this is also my learning situation to consider for my knowledge base.

I must admit however, that I am a little shy about exploring Second Life, namely because I don't really have the time to chat with everyone I come across. Its very easy to get 'sucked in' and not do things like write my blog, or read course materials. Nevertheless, what drives my exploration of virtual learning involves reading the literature and research presented in SL conferences and on SL learning websites, which offers much for virtual learning theoretical analysis.

This theoretical drive has led me to the exploring the behaviorist learning perspective within SL, or any other virtual learning environment.

A friend of mine, who had studied Psychology years ago, once told me that most first person video games and no better than a 'rat in a cage'. Sounds like operant conditioning Dr. Skinner. This led me think that even though there are volumes of literature written on the constructivist perspective of virtual learning, the medium was designed from a behaviorist model. Ask yourself, how does learning occur in video games?

Ummmm...stimulus...response. After killing the bad guy at the end, or reaching a goal, what response is given? Usually some visual que, or radical 'explosion' on the screen.

Another question: ever play a video game with a 'shock' controller. Sounds like a punishment to me and indeed very behaviorist (Ormrod, 2008).

Specifically relating to SL, Weusijana et. al. (2007) created a kind of Skinner box in SL where users have to navigate through a maze by solving puzzles. The research focus was to teach students the concept of adaptive expertise by experiencing it in a problem solving situation. During the experiment participants had to try to get through a virtual maze of rooms both using the adaptive expertise concpets of efficiency and innovation. If a wrong choice was made their avatar was stunned. Although this study did not have a behaviorist objective, the idea of learning to adapt was reinforced by stimulus.

Learning then occurs beyond just reading about it, but by experiencing what it feels like to be the rat in the change.


Ormrod, J.E. (2008). Human Learning. (5th edition). Pearson: New Jersey.

Weusijana, B.K., Svihla, V., Gawel, D., Bransford, J. (2007). Learning about adaptive expertise in a multi-user virtual environment. Paper presented at the Second Life EducationWorkshop 2007. Retrieved September 9, 2008 from


Tim C said...

Some good points there Kevin. I would argue that maybe learning while playing video games is more of a cognitive learning process. To me there is more of a problem solving, thought processing, skill development as one ventures through the virtual world of video games.

Kevin Forgard said...

What you say is true, but I am trying to see this idea through the behaviorist filter. So, its looking at the various stimuli and responses. I think, don't go that way, it will be death (aversion behavior), and if I push these buttons at this time I will be rewarded.

Jing said...

Kevin, I enjoyed reading your posts. As for video games and learning process, there are many types of video games that may support different types of learning. Drill and practice games probably are more behaviorism-based. Many more games are much more cognitively challenging than just providing stimuli and responses. For example, it is true that in a game when you kill a monster you get rewarded, but how do you kill the monster? how do you acquire the equipment, skills, and sometime collaboration from others that are necessary to finish the job? what rules do you have to follow?

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