Reflections on Identity and Learning in a Virtual World: The Avatar in Second Life

Paul Jerry, Nancy Tavares-Jones

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Participation in learning in a virtual world requires the use of an avatar. An avatar is a representation of the learner in the virtual environment and varies in complexity depending on the virtual space. Our experience using Second Life informs this discussion of the nature and evolution of identity in or with an avatar. Necessarily, in a complex virtual world, an avatar becomes a virtual embodiment of an individual’s identity. Some individuals spend time developing and evolving their avatar while others seem content to use a default setting in favour of completing whatever task has been set for them in the virtual world. Our interest lies with the experience of those individuals for whom the avatar becomes a significant extension of their off-line selves. Methodologically we have approached an understanding of identity and avatar using an ethnographic perspective. We draw on multiple data sources including reflections on personal immersion, as well as interview data with Second Life residents both new and old. Conceptually, we have approached our understanding of identity and avatar using Mann’s (1994) theory of selfhood. Mann proposes that our sense of self is composed of three dimensions - time, embodiment, and relation (which is grounded in reflexivity.) Using this conceptualisation to frame the development and evolution of an individual’s identity as an avatar, we also examine psychological constructs such as theory of mind and the individual’s experience of immersion and its potential relationship to the trait of suggestibility. While the implications of having multiple identities in online and off-line contexts are far-reaching, we focus our discussion of these implications for when a virtual world is used for educational purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUtopia and a Garden Party
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781848881402
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan. 2020


  • Education
  • Identity
  • Immersion
  • Learning
  • Second Life
  • Self
  • Virtual world


Dive into the research topics of 'Reflections on Identity and Learning in a Virtual World: The Avatar in Second Life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this