Virtual worlds have been linked with e‐learning applications to create virtual learning environments (VLEs) for the past decade. However, while they can support many educational activities that extend both traditional on‐campus teaching and distance learning, they are used primarily for learning content generated and managed by instructors. With the evolution of internet technology, social virtual worlds (SVWs) are now able to facilitate more social interaction, efficient visual communication, integration of rich media and sharing of student‐generated content. They offer the prospect of lively interactive virtual communities in which users interact through their emotional avatars in a 3D virtual world. SVWs are being increasingly embedded into e‐commerce and e‐learning, and challenge our ideas about the next generation of VLEs. This article outlines the impact of emerging social networking technologies on the internet, reveals the convergence between social networking and virtual worlds for technology‐enhanced learning (TEL), and examines the way in which SVWs are transforming the nature of learning as a social practice. The design and implementation of an innovative social interactive learning platform is presented, which augments SVWs and other social networking services with conventional learning management and student support systems. Practical experiments are described that have been prototyped on this platform, including e‐tutoring and student‐led exhibitions. The results demonstrate that an SVW can greatly enhance student‐centred active learning experience on the augmented learning platform in comparison to traditional VLEs. It is shown that the platform has the potential to support both formal and informal learning, as well as facilitating social interaction, self‐motivation, active engagement and creative thinking in TEL.