The use of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), virtual worlds and serious games for educational purposes is a controversial topic. Indeed, this kind of Internet-related technologies is the least used in academia according to a survey conducted in 96 universities offering online programs (Eduventures, 2010).
Advocates of using MMOs and virtual worlds for learning argue that these tools promote social learning. For instance, Thomas and Brown (2009) consider both virtual worlds and MMOs as “social systems where people learn how to become part of new, often rapidly shifting institutions and to organize socially and solve problems quickly on a short-term basis” (p. 15). Prensky (2001) identifies several reasons video games in general could be used for learning purposes such as the fact that players can receive immediate feedback; games put learners in the role of decision-makers while addressing different learning styles; games have the potential to provide high levels of motivation and engagement, etc.
In spite of the great enthusiasm of several social constructivists, creationists, and connectivists about using MMOs and virtual worlds for learning, there is a lack of formal studies that provide evidence of the effectiveness and efficiency of using these tools for instructional purposes. Critics of using these tools argue that it usually takes a lot of time for students to actually learn what they supposed to be learning though discovery and trial-and-error. An additional disadvantage is that usually these technologies take a lot of computer resources and bandwidth; furthermore, since the design and development of a new MMO or a virtual world intended to teach a specific content area is very time consuming and expensive, most instructors need to utilize an existing product and adjust it to accomplish their learning objectives.
Eduventures (2010). Trends in Instructional Tool Usage in Online Education Programs, Research Brief, Retrieved October 11, 2010 from https://www1.vtrenz.net/imarkownerfiles/ownerassets/884/SOE-RB_12_Trends%20in%20Instructional%20Tool%20Usage%20in%20Online%20Education%20Programs_3.3.10.pdf
Thomas, D. & Brown, J. S. (2007). Why We Need Virtual Worlds Retrieved October 12 from http://freedomtocreate.org/images/Why%20We%20Need%20Virtual%20Worlds%20%20version2%203.pdf