Collaborative problem solving for in-depth conceptual knowledge in 3D virtual worlds

Dr Stylianos Mystakidis; Panagiotis Mourtzis; and Effrosyni Tseregkouni

What is the idea?

Distance education in 3D virtual worlds can open up new horizons of student-centred pedagogies with collaborative problem-based activities in the Metaverse. The Metaverse is an interconnected web of social, networked immersive environments in persistent multiuser platforms (Mystakidis, 2022). Easy to set up activities without special or expensive resources can be organised in social VR platforms without advanced programming skills to facilitate the application of complex theoretical academic concepts towards durable, in-depth learning.

Why this idea?

In many scientific fields there are complex theoretical models, frameworks, typologies, and taxonomies involving multiple stages or categories, e.g. SOLO taxonomy, Bloom’s taxonomy (Krathwohl, 2002). Students need to build a deep, meaningful comprehension of each component of the model so as to be able to transfer this knowledge and apply the model in authentic contexts (Mystakidis et al., 2021). 3D virtual worlds offer both superior visualisation affordances as well as enhanced user agency in comparison to 2D platforms (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Kapp & O’Driscoll, 2010). Social VR can be the next, dominant paradigm of open distance education in the context of the Metaverse. Cooperative problem-solving can trigger peer learning, interest, learner autonomy and self-regulation (Davis et al., 2018; Dolmans et al., 2016).


Screenshot: A collaborative problem-solving session in action in a 3D virtual world
Figure 1. A collaborative problem-solving session in action in a 3D virtual world

How could others implement this idea?

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate specific application examples. The snapshot in Figure 2 is from a SWOT collaborative activity in a distance postgraduate course for a UK university. The educator has prepared two identical boards and 3d objects, simple white blocks, in this case with the labels of twelve major technological and pedagogical trends in their longer sides. Students are divided in two groups and have the task to discuss and classify the trends across the strengths – weaknesses – opportunities – threats spectrum in the context of higher education. They can execute this task by picking up each block and moving it to the appropriate quadrant. After working separately, both groups convene to discuss similarities and differences in the plenary.

The following implementation steps are recommended for Second Life and virtual worlds platforms based on the open-source software OpenSimulator.

  1. Choose a relevant theoretical framework, model, taxonomy or typology that students need to comprehend.
  2. Select short problems, cases, examples or components that fall into the different stages or categories of the framework. Package eventual additional information into a format that is easily accessible to students.
  3. Prepare the 2D files for the 3D assets, e.g. text labels in the form of images. Make sure that you have sufficient but not too much empty space around the word or words. Upload them to the platform as textures.
  4. Create the required 3D assets in the virtual worlds: the board of the taxonomy and the 3D objects, blocks for the elements or cases titles to be moved and classified. Apply the images on the surface of the 3D objects.
  5. Set the appropriate permissions for each 3D object so as to facilitate the group work. For instance, students should be able to move or even replicate blocks but not the board with the framework’s categories.
  6. Create one duplicate 3D learning setting, board, labels and blocks, for each group. Make sure each group has sufficient distance from others to avoid local voice interference among groups.
  7. Prepare written instructions with the tasks to be completed.
  8. Divide students into groups and share instructions both in written and oral form. Allow students to ask questions.
  9. Let students execute the exercise, roam among groups to verify their steady progress.
  10. Make copies and snapshots of the finished boards.
  11. Exhibit the work of each group in the plenary meeting space. Let each group present and justify their choices. Debate eventual differences.
  12. Debrief, archive, reflect and discuss group work.

Things to watch out for

In order to create and materialise objects in a 3D virtual world, the avatar needs to have building permissions. This right can be either granted within an existing group of educators that owns some virtual land, or, another option is visiting public spaces called Sandboxes that are open to all users. Also, in Second Life, uploading images costs 10 Linden dollars each. 1 US dollar amounts to approximately 250 Linden dollars. In OpenSim worlds, all steps are free of charge.

Transferability to different contexts

Group of postgraduate distant learners ready to start a collaborative activity on SWOT analysis in a virtual world
Figure 2. Group of postgraduate distant learners ready to start a collaborative activity on SWOT analysis


This idea is relevant to educators who wish to encourage in-depth knowledge and application of theoretical information around a taxonomy (Mystakidis, 2021b). It requires subject-matter and basic editing skills in 3D virtual worlds.

This idea can be implemented in any 3D virtual world or social VR platform that allows either creating or importing custom 3D objects. It is not necessary to build an entire world but rather just the objects for the activity. This is a basic building skill that can be quickly mastered by any educator. Differentiated student access to computing equipment can be addressed by selecting a platform that allows flexible participation through various devices such as VR headsets, computers or mobile apps. In any case, preparatory orientation and technical training sessions are recommended prior to the course to ensure that both educators and student construct sufficient technical skills to use the digital systems effectively (Mystakidis et al., 2017). This approach can safeguard that technology is an enabler not an obstacle.

Alternatively, this idea can be applied pedagogically to analyse a problem, a situation or story collaboratively by identifying, deconstructing and categorising its components. Other variations could involve a snowball technique to facilitate knowledge sharing and peer-feedback across teams.

From a technological point of view, this practice is applicable also in 2-D settings, e.g. through group work in breakout rooms during synchronous web-conferencing sessions. In this case groups can converse and edit collaboratively a document, e.g. in GDrive.

3D virtual worlds can support effectively playful design (Mystakidis, 2021a), curriculum gamification (Mystakidis, 2020) as well as game-based learning (Christopoulos et al., 2018). Depending on teaching perceptions, student characteristics and the overall context, appropriate game mechanics such as time pressure or competition can be added to gamify the activity.

Links to tools and resources


Christopoulos, A., Conrad, M., & Shukla, M. (2018). Interaction with educational games in hybrid virtual worlds. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 46(4), 385–413.

Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M. J. W. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3-D virtual environments? British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(1), 10–32.

Davis, D., Chen, G., Hauff, C., & Houben, G.-J. (2018). Activating learning at scale: A review of innovations in online learning strategies. Computers & Education, 125, 327–344.

Dolmans, D. H. J. M., Loyens, S. M. M., Marcq, H., & Gijbels, D. (2016). Deep and surface learning in problem-based learning: a review of the literature. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 21, 1087–1112.

Kapp, K. M., & O’Driscoll, T. (2010). Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration. Pfeiffer.

Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy: An overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212–218.

Mystakidis, S. (2020). Distance education gamification in social virtual reality: A case study on student engagement. In 11th International Conference on Information, Intelligence, Systems and Applications (IISA 2020) (pp. 1–6). Piraeus.

Mystakidis, S. (2021a). Combat tanking in education – The TANC model for playful distance learning in social virtual reality. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 13(4).

Mystakidis, S. (2021b). Deep and meaningful learning. Encyclopedia, 1(3), 988–997.

Mystakidis, S. (2022). Metaverse. Encyclopedia, 2(1), 486–497.

Mystakidis, S., Berki, E., & Valtanen, J.-P. (2017). Designing and implementing a big open online course by using a 3d virtual immersive environment – Lessons learned. In 9th Annual International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies (EDULEARN17) (pp. 8070–8079). Barcelona, 3-5 July 2017.

Mystakidis, S., Berki, E., & Valtanen, J.-P. (2021). Deep and meaningful e-learning with social virtual reality environments in higher education: A systematic literature review. Applied Sciences, 11(5), 2412.

Image Attributions

Figure 1. A collaborative problem-solving session in action in a 3D virtual world by Stylianos Mystakidis is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

Figure 2. Group of postgraduate distant learners ready to start a collaborative activity on SWOT analysis by Stylianos Mystakidis is used under CC-BY 4.0 Licence

About the Authors

Dr. Stylianos Mystakidis is an innovator, project manager, and researcher at the School of Natural Sciences, University of Patras, Greece, and a Professor-Counselor at the School of Humanities, Hellenic Open University, Greece. His main areas of expertise and research are open & distance education, game-based learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, and metaverse.

Panagiotis Mourtzis, MA, is an online English instructor, business consultant, academic and researcher specialising in 3D virtual worlds and the metaverse.

Effrosyni Tseregkouni is a certified e-learning trainer, screenwriter and creative story artist specializing in fictional narratives for educational experiences around complex socio-cognitive issues and challenges targeted at children, adolescents and adults.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning by Dr Stylianos Mystakidis; Panagiotis Mourtzis; and Effrosyni Tseregkouni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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