Training in the 21st Century

The Effectiveness of 3D Virtual Environments in the Real World

What we see our avatars doing inside 3D worlds affects what we do in the real world. That’s what the research shows and that’s what my personal experience and observations suggest. It’s also one of the reasons my partner and I have made training in 3D an important component of our blended learning  offerings. So what is this research, you may wonder? Here’s a little information about a few research projects conducted in the past few years.

Research at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab1 found that when people entered a virtual world in which their avatar was active (running, playing soccer, etc.), they were much more likely to be physically active in their real lives, that day or the next, than people who found their avatars hanging out and/or lounging around.  As someone who spends way too much time sitting in front of my computer, I wage regular battles between the dueling thoughts, “Yes, I’ll feel better after I’ve gone to the gym,” vs. “But I’m too tired now. I’ll just kick back and relax.” Anything that tilts the balance towards going to the gym is a hit with me.

There have also been several research projects on the effectiveness of 3D virtual environments for health and weight loss programs. The results show that 3D education and experiences are valuable tools for mastering the behavior (and thinking) changes that are the foundation of weight loss. One project, conducted by Club One at their virtual site in Second Life (Club One Island)2 found the virtual participants actually lost more weight than those participating in their real-world weight-loss programs: In the 12-week programs, an average of 8.08 lbs. was lost by the virtual world participants, compared with 5.98 lbs. lost by those enrolled in the real-world program.

University of Houston researchers also found Second Life a valuable asset in the effort to control obesity3. The outcomes of their International Health Challenge “a multicultural obesity prevention project conducted entirely in Second Life,” was a success for participants and offered the added bonus of being accessible to people from a wide range of income levels, backgrounds and locations.

For me, some anecdotal evidence is just as convincing as quantitative research: A friend who is working to lose weight realized she’d started taking breaks to eat all her meals, instead of her normal habit of working through lunch. She was taking a few minutes to relax and pay attention to what she was eating, and had happily noted that she was eating more slowly, and enjoying her food more as she ate less of it. Wondering how this serendipitous change had come about, she traced it back to experiences while touring Club One Island. The impact of some of their vivid information and experiential learning activities had affected her behavior, even though she’d made no conscious decision to change what she was doing. What she had done was set the goal to lose weight. Her mind, with the benefits of 3D experiential learning, did the rest.

To experience a 3D environment, contact us at or 415-400-4380 to arrange a guided tour/orientation.

For more information on research regarding virtual environments and real life, please use the links below:

1Virtual Human Interaction Lab:

2Club One Island:

3Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, V3, #3, “Developing an Obesity Intervention Program in Networked Virtual Environments”:

Pixels and Policy:

For information on an even more serious use of virtual worlds, see KTCS 9, Training PTSD:

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